Wall Street may be the center of the modern global economy, but new research shows that money was already in circulation among Indigenous Californians about 2,000 years ago. Presented in the Journal of Anthropological Archeology, the study traces the early use of currency in America to more than a thousand years ago and names a native group called Chumash as the developer of the continent’s first-ever financial trade system.
Until now, it has speculated that the Chumash – who populated the coast of Southern California – began using beads as a form of currency about 800 years ago. This hypothesis is because a certain type of high quality beads, known as a curled bead, is abundant in the archaeological records of that period.
When the first Europeans arrived in California now, they described their faces with kisses, some of which adorned themselves with these beaded strings, which they could remove for purchase – like a hidden prototype in a wallet. Based on this anthropological report, anthropologists have realized that Chumash was probably the first person in the region to develop a coin despite being a coin developer.
In a statement, study author Lynn Gamble explained, “In the early days of European communication, California Indians traded a wide variety of products, including perishable food. No doubt, the extensive network of this vast network was facilitating by the use of shell beads.” However, by reviewing a large number of archaeological excavations across California, Gamble has found evidence that different types of beads, called a snow beads, probably traded for products long before the development of ripe beads. Made from the shells of purple olive marine snails, these beads together feature ground edges, making them just as standard as rubbish beads.
According to Gamble, shell beads commonly used for coinage or for decoration in antiquities, yet archaeologists are still struggling to determine which of these discoveries will be included. With it, he has created a set of criteria that can used to distinguish between coin beads and decorative beads. Gamble said coin beads are always of high quality and require a significant amount of labor to produce, as well as it is widely distributed. Meanwhile, decorative beads tend to be larger and more impressive, as well as less labor-intensive and more distinctive in nature.
A review of archaeological records suggests that snow beads were widespread in California about 2,000 years ago, suggesting that the Chumash business networks were already large at this time. Significantly, a large number of these beads found in a cemetery in the San Francisco Bay Area, dating to 388 AD. The researchers were able to use the isotope signatures of these shell beads to repatriate their Southern California mounds, suggesting that their coins probably well received beyond their territory at the time of burial.
Gamble summarizes his research, saying, “If the bee was using beads as money 2,000 years ago, it would change our thinking about the hunter-gatherer and the socio-economic and economic complexities.” This may be the first example of the use of money anywhere in America at this time.”
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