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1300 BC

Cowry shells, a form of currency

Long before our era the cowry shell was used as a means of payment and regarded as a symbol of wealth and power. This monetary usage continued until the 20th century. The two main varieties are the cypreae moneta and the cypraea annulus, and they have all the features we might expect from a currency - durability, convenience, divisibility, as well as being easily identifiable. In com-parison with foodstuffs, which are perishable, and feathers, which can be damaged by vermin, cowry shells can withstand frequent handling and are small and easy to transport. As they are nearly always the same shape and size, they could also be counted or simply weighed to determine the value of a payment.

They were accepted in Asia, Africa, Oceania and even in certain parts of Europe. The oldest traces of their use as a currency can be found on bronze objects unearthed in China, dating back to the 13th century B.C. Meanwhile, the Chinese characters for certain words with a strong economic connotation (e.g. money, coin, buy, value) also resemble cowries.

To learn more about cowries, read the full article

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