Bitcoin 1.0: Yap’s ancient stone currency

Bitcoin 1.0: Yap's ancient stone currency

Another week, another wave of Bitcoin surprises. It doesn’t matter that the price of digital currency has skyrocketed; or that Elon Musk, the flamboyant founder of Tesla, would have collected more company profits from investing in bitcoins than from manufacturing electric vehicles last year. Equally striking was this week that Citibank told its customers that digital currency has reached a “tipping point” and may one day “become the currency of choice for international commerce”.

Indicate predictable levels of celebration on the part of bitcoin enthusiasts and the bewilderment of 20th century financiers. Yet cryptocurrency detractors and fans both seem to agree on one thing: Bitcoin is taking finance into the realm of bold 21st century technological experiments.

Really? During weeks like this, it helps to reflect on other evidence, such as the research carried out in Micronesia in recent years by Scott Fitzpatrick, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon, and the school’s professor. Oregon Trade Representative Stephen McKeon. The couple are studying an ancient stone currency system that once existed on the Micronesian island of Yap, where local communities treated large disks of limestone as a medium of exchange.

Such stone discs, called rai, “were considered extremely valuable,” the pair noted in a 2019 article in the Journal of Economic Anthropology. But the stones were so huge that “given their size, weight and relative fragility, they weren’t …


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