BITCOIN and blockchain may seem extremely modern but archaeologists have evidence to show that the concept behind them is far older than we think.
A tiny island called Yap in the Pacific Ocean is home to remnants of an ancient currency system that involves giant stone disks that worked similar to how block chain does today.
Often the stones are much bigger than the people who own them[/caption]
The giant stone disks are called rai and were used a as a symbolic form of money by the Yapese islanders for hundreds of years and are still sometimes used today for traditional or ceremonial purposes.
The doughnut shaped rings may look completely different to the digital and invisible bitcoin system but they are similar in the sense that both currencies depend upon a public, community ledger system, so that everyone is aware of transactions and no centralised banking system is required.
Archaeologist Scott Fitzpatrick from the University of Oregon said: “They are one of the world’s most intriguing coins.
“Carved from limestone quarries located in the Palau islands some 250 miles (400 km) from Yap, they’re the largest objects ever moved over the open Pacific Ocean during the pre-European contact era.”
What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin got you baffled? Here's what you really need to know
- Bitcoin is a virtual currency
- It’s traded between people without the help of a bank
- Every transaction is recorded in a public ledger, or ‘blockchain’
- Bitcoin is created by mining
- Mining involves solving difficult maths problems using computer processors
- Bitcoin can be traded anonymously, which makes it a popular way of funding illegal activities
- A single Bitcoin is worth just under £5,000 today, but the value fluctuates wildly
- Bitcoin is one of many different cryptocurrencies, but by far the most popular
In a new study by Fitzpatrick and co-author Stephen McKeon, they state that rai stone money was extremely valuable but given its size, weight and fragility it was barely ever moved around the island.
They go on to explain that “as a result, if a rai were gifted or exchanged, the new owner(s) of a disk may not have lived in close proximity to it. To ensure that ownership was known and indisputable, an oral ledger was used within communities to maintain transparency and security.”
This oral ledger was apparently passed down through the generations of Yapese people and helped the community to understand who owned which rai so they could be used for things like wedding gifts, political persuasion, or sometimes even paying ransoms.
The stone disks can be seen in a variety of sizes all over the island[/caption]
McKeon concluded: “As with the rai stones, information about bitcoins’ value and ownership is managed collectively.
“It’s a distributed financial system as opposed to the more familiar, centralised systems involving third-party financial institutions.”
This ‘ancient Bitcoin’ study has been published in the journal Economic Anthropology.
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An ancient coin from a medieval African city has been found over 10,000km away on a beach in Australia – predating the first Brit explorers by up to 800 years.
And, an ultra-rare Roman coin stamped with the face of a rebel emperor who only reigned for two months has been found during roadworks on the A14.
Are you impressed by the ‘ancient Bitcoin’ system? Let us know in the comments…
‘Original Bitcoin’ was enormous stone money invented 500 YEARS ago – by tiny island in Pacific Ocean