Before money existed, people traded by bartering, or swapping, different goods. The problem with bartering was that each trader had to want what the other trader was selling. Money was invented as a medium of exchange – something with a recognized value that could be used to buy other goods. Money is usually made of rare materials, such as precious metals or colourful feathers. The first written records of money date back to Mesopotamia (now in southern Iraq) where weighed silver was used about 4,500 years ago.
In Ancient Egypt, payments were made with various metals and their value was based on weight not shape. This resulted in a wide array of bars, rings, and pieces of gold, silver, and copper.
During the 18th century, silver weights called “flower silvers” were used as money in Burma (now Myanmar). Liquid silver was poured into a mould, and a floral pattern added.
Coins were regularly shipped overseas in the 16th century. To identify the different coins and their value, Dutch merchants used handbooks detailing foreign currency.
The Pacific Islanders of Santa Cruz used long coils made of feathers to buy canoes. The brightest and boldest feathers had the highest value.
In 500 BCE, bronze coins in China were made to resemble tools or the cowrie shells of an earlier currency. The shapes were so awkward they were replaced by circular coins with square holes.
Paper money has its origins in 10th-century China. Handwritten receipts provided by merchants gained such importance that the government started printing paper receipts for specific sums.
Native Americans created belts, known as wampum, from white and purple clam shells. These belts represented money and were used to seal deals.
Heavy currency was used by the islanders of Yap in the Pacific Ocean. The huge stone discs they used to pay for items were often too weighty to lift, some measuring 4 m (13 ft) across.
An alternative to cash is a cheque - a form that details how much money should be transferred from one bank account to another. In medieval times, the Knights Templar issued cheques to pilgrims so they could travel across Europe without carrying money.
First used in 1920s America to buy petrol, many people now rely on plastic credit cards. Issued by banks and businesses, cards are a convenient alternative to cash.
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