For most of the written history of mankind, one of the constant things was currency, which had only been changing its form. From seashells and fish scales to bitcoins, people have always needed a means of payment and self-esteem.
The digital currency was introduced for the first time in 2008, and for 11 years hard-working miners have been “digging” in a competition with other colleagues, by managing software that solves mathematical puzzles and thus finds the reward that comes with them. Modern “diggers” are aware that the use of more computer “muscles” leads to higher profits, and that an important factor for the amount of profit is the time invested in digging. The digital currency has settled permanently in our everyday life after the sharp rise in the price of the bitcoins in 2017. However, if you decide to dig deep into the past, you will see that there is an original version of Bitcoin, which existed more than 1500 years ago.
Thousands of years ago, currencies were a means of payment of debt, archaeologists and anthropologists claim. Let’s see, however, how and what our ancestors “dug”, taking it into the rotating circle of the global economy. And if we could go back to the ancient times in a time machine, instead of talking about blockchain technology and decentralized systems, we will know how ancient the Bitcoin concept was.
Many ancient civilizations used seashells and fish scales as money. The old Mediterranean and Mesoamerican countries paid their bills with seashell disks. In China and Africa, on the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, people used them for a long time. Blocks of rock salt were also used as a currency more than 3,000 years ago. In Egypt, Africa, the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, salt crystals were used as a spice in the kitchen and as an element in special spiritual ceremonies. The very word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium,” which meant “money used to buy salt.” As the base currency, salt was used in East Africa during the Middle Ages. In Central America, the Aztec grew cocoa bushes whose beans were used for payment. In Central Asia and Mongolia, this role was served by tea leaves ingots.
But if you live on an island in the middle of the ocean, it is difficult to decide what to use as a means of exchange – it has to be rare and difficult to obtain in order to have value. The inhabitants of the small island of Yap, Micronesia, invested much energy into digging their currency. Their stone money, known as “Rai Stone”, was dug out from a limestone rock, located on a neighbouring hard-to-reach island. The spherical stones had varied weights of up to 8 tons and the diameter of the hole in the middle ranged between 50 centimetres and 5 m. Each stone had its own history, and its value increased proportionately to its size and the difficulty for obtaining it. The creation of every specimen of this greatest form of currency in the ancient world was a huge undertaking. People from the tribe risked their lives by sailing with a canoe to a neighbouring island where the limestone could be dug out. The stone discs were then carved carefully and transported back to Yap on a canoe or a raft.
Due to the considerable amount of time and effort spent on the digging of each stone, the transfer of ownership from one owner to another was possible only after a complex ceremony. The serious efforts that had to be made to extract limestone can be compared to the price of computing power and the cost of energy associated with the yield of bitcoins today. The person who had yielded the limestone received an excellent reward, as do the miners of bitcoins. Among the legends of the island, there is one that tells of a man who, after digging his currency unit, failed to deliver it to his village and the stone sunk with the canoe. However, its value was not lost, but was preserved with the common recognition of witnesses who confirmed the size and value of the limestone disk. Thus, the population of the island of Yap created the first distributed register, managed by consensus. The cryptocurrencies work on the same principle. Bitcoin is a code, so it does not matter if it exists in a material form or not. When a Bitcoin transaction is confirmed, the record appears in a blockchain. When a sufficient number of nodes confirm this, consensus is reached and the record appears in the open register.
By definition, money, in addition to being a value, is also a social concept. Over the last 5,000 years, the material form they have taken has changed significantly. Millions of years ago people dug up the sand on the seashore with their hands to collect rare seashells as a means of payment. Nowadays, thousands of people around the world “dig” cryptocurrencies through computers in order to be financially secured.