Calling for Money



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Why Currency?

For my groups’ inquiry project, we are dealing with the question how does currency relate to humanity? I decided to take the more historic approach to the question. The two question that immediately were how did currency develop in cultures? And how did bartering turn into currency? In doing my research I was only able to find why china switched from using cattle to using shells and coins: The northern people in China found it was hard to find enough shells from the south, so they started using other materials like pottery, stone, bone, jade, bronze and gold to make shell-shaped coins. The bronze shell-shaped coins heralded the start of the Chinese coin.
Although I was not successful at finding information for my first question, I was able to find a good amount of information for my second question. Civilizations used animals and resources to barter in the beginning. The most primitive form of money found is shells. Known in Africa as cowries and wampum in America. These small shells, deriving from the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean, were a treasured item in the civilizations of China and India from very early times. From India these attractive objects were carried along the trade routes to Africa. Similarly the American Indians use a small white cylindrical shell for ceremonial gifts, embroidered on to decorated belts or other ornaments.
The earliest known currency to be used in commercial transactions appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia by the third millennium BC. The currency used were gold bars which had to be weighed to establish their value each time they are exchanged. Later on, the gold bars were supplemented by gold rings for smaller sums. Egypt and Mesopotamia gold was deposited in temples for safe-keeping as temples were known for being safe places. In Babylon at the time of Hammurabi, in the 18th century BC, there are records of loans made by the priests of the temple. This is the first documentation of banking. The earliest known coins in the western world came from the city of Ephesus in Ionia (in western Turkey) around 650 BC. The metal used in the coins is electrum which is a natural alloy of gold and silver found locally in the area. The coins were bean shaped and had a distinguishing mark on one side such as the image of a lion. Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, introduces the more well-known round coin in the late 3rd century BC. Cast in bronze rather than struck, they have a square hole in the middle which would become a characteristic of far eastern coins for the next two millennia. China developed paper currency and soon it was being used everywhere.