Standardized by shape and weight: 5,000 years ago, people used rings, bangles and axe blades as an early form of money.
How much does this sword cost?
Four bracelets, three clasps and an axe!
This is how a prehistoric bartering might have sounded before coins came into circulation in the Bronze Age in Europe. At that time, rings, rib bars, and axe blades of either bronze or copper were common currencies. And surprisingly, these objects were standardized in weight and shape in many parts of Europe, researchers at Leiden University have discovered.
The Dutch researchers examined more than 5,000 bars, axe blades, and rings from the period of 2150-1700 BC. The examined objects came from different archaeological sites, including in what is today South Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, as well as North Germany and southern Scandinavia. They found not only single objects, but whole collections (hoards) of several hundred pieces.
Although the objects came from very different regions and times, they were surprisingly uniform in shape and weight, according to the study published in the journal Plos One. About 70% of the rings examined had an average weight of about 195 grams.
But how was this possible? After all, people didn't regularly use scales.
The Dutch researchers discussed the Weber-Fechner law – from the field of perceptual psychology – in their analysis. This law describes the relationship between the objective intensity of stimuli and the subjectively perceived strength of sensory impressions.
According to the Weber-Fechner law, one only recognizes a weight difference when there is a weight increase of approximately 2%. So for a metal object weighing one kilo, i.e. 1000 grams, another object would have to weigh 20 grams more to appear heavier.
The development of such a comparative weight and measurement system is among the most significant prehistoric developments of human intellect, Maikel Kuijpers and Catalin Popa of Leiden University's Department of Archaeology said in their study.
The shape and weight of objects were so similar that they were perceived to be standardized.
So even in prehistoric times, people realized that objects had to have a standard size in order to serve as a common currency that would be accepted across vast distances.
Ancient treasures found in 2020
The COVID pandemic has not stopped archaeologists, who In 2020 found spectacular objects like sarcophagi, marble statues and gold coins.
Image: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Saqqara, the necropolis of the city of Memphis, about 30 kilometers south of Cairo, is considered one of most important archaeological sites in Egypt together with the Valley of the Kings and the pyramids of Giza. The settlement struck the headlines this year with yet another spectacular discovery: In September and October, researchers found beautifully decorated wooden coffins.
Image: Samer Abdallah/dpa/picture alliance
Twelve more wooden coffins
In November, experts uncovered a dozen more sarcophagi in Saqqara. The beautifully decorated wooden coffins are considered to be over 2,500 years old, Egyptian researchers said. Individual coffins were opened carefully to anaylze their contents.
Image: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Striking rock in Egypt
Egyptologists from the University of Bonn discovered an inscription on this rock, believed to be over 5,000 years old. It was discovered in Wadi Abu Subeira, northeast of Aswan. Experts, including those from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, found that the rock was actually a town sign from the fourth century BC.
Image: Ludwig Morenz
The ruins of Pompeii
The archaeological site of the Roman city of Pompeii, southwards of Naples, surprises the world with new discoveries every now and then. In 79 AD, during the historical volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, mud, ash rain and molten lava buried the place, killing people and animals. Only in the 18th century were archaeologists able to uncover the relics.
Image: picture-alliance/Jens Köhler
Fast food, Pompeii style
Shortly before Christmas, archaeologists in Pompeii presented the most spectacular discovery of the year: a "thermopolia," an antique food stall with a painted counter. Its gaps had small containers, believed to keep food warm,. Dishes made of duck, chicken and other animals were sold here to residents.
Image: Luigi Spina/picture alliance
The city wall of Jerusalem
There were completely new discoveries in 2020 as well. After a long period of excavation where Jerusalem is located today, a team of experts under German archaeologist Dieter Vieweger uncovered parts of an ancient city wall, which is believed to be from the time of King Herod and the Byzantine period. The discovery confirmed that ancient Jerusalem was much smaller than believed until now.
Image: DW/T. Krämer
A village from the 2nd century
Jerusalem is racked by religious and political conflict. The various archaeological layers have stored thousand years of the city's multicultural history. In early 2020 the remains of a village wall were discovered in Jerusalem. Traces of everyday life reveal interesting information about the settlements at the time.
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/A. Widak
Old city, new discoveries
In November, construction workers at a sewer in Athens stumbled upon the massive head of an ancient sculpture. On close examination, it turned out to be the marble head of the Greek god, Hermes, according to the Greek Ministry of Culture. Experts believe the head could be from the 3rd or the 4th century. Every now and then, an ancient artefact is discovered in Athens' old city.
To this day, we don't know whether Stonehenge was a temple, an ancient sacrificial site or an observatory. But in 2020, researchers found where the monoliths came from. According to a recent study, the sarsen stones, as the massive sandstone blocks are known, originated from a nearby forest called West Woods in southern England.