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It doesn’t look like much. Thick, obloid, and made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, the 1/6 stater on display in the British Museum is one of the oldest coins in the world. Manufactured more than 2,700 years ago in Lydia, in modern Turkey, and decorated on one side with a hand punched design of lion’s head (complete with “nose wart”) the coin represents a way of conducting financial transactions that have remained unchanged for millennia.
We don’t carry electrum coins today, but the dimes and nickel, euros or yuan that jangle around in our pockets are little different to those early coins. They might be neater in shape, harder to forge, and decorated on both sides (as well as along the rim) but the technology itself is fundamentally the same. A visitor from seventh century BC Lydia might be impressed at the accuracy and shininess of a quarter but he’d have no questions about what it was for.
Coins have always represented value and they have always been accepted in exchange for goods or services. It’s a much easier way of conducting trade than trying to pay a bus driver with an armful of chickens. That simplicity is why cash has survived unchanged, except in the design of its notes and coins, for thousands of years.
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