Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of ancient cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. At the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Washington, D.C., archaeologists discussed how ancient stone money transactions on the island of Yap, in the western Pacific Ocean, may have been the precursor to Bitcoin and blockchain technologies. Researchers drew astonishing parallels between the carved limestone disks of the Yap people and modern cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But how did this ancient stone money system work like cryptocurrency?
Yap islanders pioneered a public oral system for securely tracking and exchanging their currency, the giant limestone coins, called rai. Archaeologists point out that a similar process happens with blockchain through the storing of digital histories. There are many other similarities, though, including the mining, storage, peer-to-peer negotiation, and auditability of both currencies. Once again, history has shown that the ancients were wiser than people often realize.
What are these ancient coins, and how were they used?
How long the Yap people have used stone currency remains a mystery, but flat rocks have been found at the site dating back over 2000 years. What archaeologists do know, is that centuries ago, Yapese stone carvers started traveling to the Palauan archipelago to carve limestone into circular rai currency. The stone disks had a hole cut into the center, so men could skewer them with wooden poles for transport on their rafts. Back at the island, the miners would present the huge coins to the villagers at a public gathering where they would describe each coin’s manufacturing history and attributes of the stones to the community so that everyone knew a rai’s worth. After public inspection, a coin was assigned a value based on its attributes like size, shape, quality, and even the risks taken on the journey to acquire it. Once the rai’s worth was determined, the village chief would display the coin at communal spots. Researchers argue that similarly, Bitcoin miners solve complex mathematical problems in order to release units of the cryptocurrency to the community. Then, blockchain technology verifies the transaction, making it visible to the network.
The similarities do not end there. Through the display of rai in public places in the village, the Yap people could see and agree on the value of the currency, like how Bitcoin participants can check the value of their currency through a viewable digital ledger. Further, for the Yap people to have mined for limestone, they had to work out agreements with nearby islanders. Likewise, miners of Bitcoin receive a digital request to mine for coins. After a rai coin was verified and publicly displayed, it could be exchanged for goods and services, just like Bitcoins. Also, like Bitcoin, the transaction history for each rai was publicly visible to yap blockchain members.
New research is emerging every day to suggest that ancient stone money, like the rai, is only one of many examples of how ancient civilizations created a socially networked economic system based on community and transparency. Clearly, we still have a lot to learn from our ancient history. Exciting new technologies like cryptocurrencies and blockchains are yet another example of how ancient wisdom may hold the key to humanity’s future. As Machiavelli said, "Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times."
I am back from a writing hiatus, just in time for some of the weirdest archaeological news yet this year. A few weeks ago, archaeologists in Alexandria, Egypt excavated a 2,000-year-old, black granite sarcophagus at a construction site of an apartment complex. The tomb was located about five meters below the surface, along with an alabaster head (probably of the owner of the sarcophagus).
The news spread all over. People were understandably excited to find out who or what was in that sarcophagus. Some even feared that they would unleash a curse. At the moment of truth, there was a bit of disappointment. Upon opening, the archaeologists were made nauseous from the putrid stench emanating from the sarcophagus. Inside, three skeletons sloshed around in a vile stew of reddish brown sewage water. When I first heard about this, I wondered if it may have been an embalming gone wrong, leaving the bodies to essentially cook in a vat of unknown chemicals. However, the archaeologists on site reported that there was a small crack in the sarcophagus that had allowed sewage water to seep in over the years, leading to what could be described as the devil’s privy.
Yet, the horror and disappointment didn’t stop there because the archaeologist did indeed release a curse; the curse of stupid. In the spirit of the, “The Tide Pod Challenge,” people are now asking to, “drink the red liquid from the cursed dark sarcophagus.” In a Change.org petition, signers are calling on Egyptian authorities to allow people to drink the “mummy juice.” As of this afternoon, the petition had over 22,000 signatures and was rapidly growing towards their goal of 25,000 signatures. Some reasons people have stated for signing the petition include, “This is the true next stage in the evolution of mankind, the world governments dare think they can take this nectar of life for themselves, Give. Us. The. Juice,” and, “Let us drink from the cursed waters of Set.”
Personally, I think that these people are way off. Clearly the only way to truly get the magic mummy juice power is to include the actual mummies in the mix to make a supercharged sarcophagus smoothie. Since we can't do that, here is a recipe for Dr. Heather Lynn’s Sarcophagus Smoothie. I guarantee it is 100% more delicious and nutritious than anything you will find floating in a sewage-filled sarcophagus.
All ingredients are what would have been eaten in ancient Egypt. The smoothie gets its red color from pomegranates. Pomegranates have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs and painted on the walls as a symbol of prosperity. Greek yogurt is used as a nod to the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Dr. Heather Lynn’s Sarcophagus Smoothie
1 cup plain yogurt Greek yogurt
4 figs (fresh, sliced in half)
1 1/2 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 teaspoons honey
2 Tbs. raw carob powder (Cacao or cocoa powder is a good substitute; however, carob is more authentically Egyptian)
Combine ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve cold.