Before money, people got along by swapping things they had for things they needed. You can see how difficult this could become: what happens if you have a herd of sheep and need some clothes, but the tailor only wants potatoes? And how many potatoes make a pair of trousers, anyway? The Color of Money
Then someone, somewhere had a brainwave: money. Well, it probably didn’t happen quite like that.
The first units of money were valuable in themselves, cowrie shells in ancient China around 1200 BC and other parts of the world, small amounts of grain in ancient Babylon, salt in the Roman Empire, and precious metals in many different places.
The first metal coins were made in Lydia (modern-day Turkey) about 640 BC. Paper money is useful because it’s a lot lighter than coins. It was first used in China from the 800s, when it was known as ‘flying cash’! Elsewhere in the world paper money wasn’t used for centuries.
Credit cards were invented in the 1950s, plenty of people probably wish they hadn’t been. Curious Cash.
The following have all been used as money in different parts of the world:
Pepper – Europe
Stones – Pacific Islands (on Yap in Micronesia, stone money is still used)
Coils of red feathers – Pacific Islands
Dogs’ teeth – New Guinea
Bread – Iraq
Iron nails – Scotland
Whales’ teeth – Fiji
The Inca people of South America used gold and silver to make beautiful objects but they didn’t use it, or anything else, as money. They seem to be one of the only civilizations that managed to do without it.
Who needs money? Before the invention of money, to be able to get what you wanted you had to exchange items. This kind of trading can still be done today.
In July 2005, Kyle MacDonald began his quest to own a house by swapping items. He started with a paper clip, and a year and fourteen swaps later (including swapping a doorknob, snow globe and a film role), he now owns a house.