Money has served as a standard of exchange, even being manufactured to contain specific details and features - and similar bronze items of standardized weight and appearance were found, dating back to the Early Bronze Age.

From the Early Bronze Age in Europe, people used bronze objects as a form of currency, going so far as to achieve similar shapes and weights. This offers new insight into the murky early history of money as a commercial medium - an important marker of modern human society. Money has been challenging in archaeology since ancient civilizations had different forms of measurement for the value and cost of objects than the global standards available today.

In the study, published in the open-access PLOS ONE by Leiden University researchers, possible money from the Early Bronze Age in Central Europe could compare objects based on their similarity.


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Bronze Money in Central Europe

The hoard detailed in the study includes bronze crafts described as "rings, ribs, and axe blades." Authors of the study, Maikel HG Kujipers and Catalin N. Popa of Leiden University examined more than 5,000 pieces of these objects from more than a hundred different hoards. They then statistically compared the weights of the items following the psychology principle known as the Weber fraction, which incorporates the just-noticeable difference and states that if two objects are close enough in weight, a human being weighing them without any measuring instrument would not be able to tell them apart.

Researchers discovered that although the objects' weight differences varied greatly, most of them fall under the Weber fraction. About seventy percent of the bronze rings close enough to be indistinguishable by hand - or precisely measured to be about 195 grams each - as with groups of ribs and axe blades.

The findings suggest that the standardization of these items, together with the fact that these are often found in great quantities in hoards, point toward these items being used as some sort of a standardized currency. They also added that in later periods, such as the Middle Bronze Age of Europe, better weighing tools were found in the archaeological record and an increase in scrap bronze, suggesting a better-developed weighing system.

"The euros of Prehistory came in the form of bronze rings, ribs, and axes. These Early Bronze Age artifacts were standardized in shape and weight and used as an early form of money," researchers wrote in the report.

Commodity and Credit Theories of Money

In their paper, researchers noted the two main directions for defining money. One is the commodity theory, which follows the money as a means of exchange, and the other is credit theory, where the money is seen as a means of exchange.

The discovery of the bronze artifacts, according to the paper, "conform to the definition of commodity money." They cited the perceptible similarity in weight between rings, ribs, and a selection of axe blades as evidence of "intentional standardization" following weight estimation from lifting objects.


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