Archaeologists in China have uncovered what they believe to be the world’s oldest known coin manufacturing site.
Used about 2,600 years ago to make “spade money” – an early form of metal currency shaped like the gardening tool commonly used for digging – the site was located in the ancient city of Guanzhuang (present-day Henan Province), according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.
Spade money replaced cowrie shells during the Zhou dynasty’s Spring and Autumn Period (about 770 BC-476 BC), according to a 2017 blog post by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
During the dig at the former bronze casting site, archaeologists found completed coins, coin moulds and pits for disposing of production waste. Through radiocarbon dating, researchers also found the workshop began minting operations between 640 BC and 550 BC. The findings were published in Antiquity, a bimonthly U.K.-based academic journal, in early August.
“The discovery of the coins is not surprising, but the discovery of a coin mint is truly exciting as it shows the existence of a very old coin workshop,” archaeologist and lead study author Hao Zhao told China’s Red Star News, according to a report from the Global Times.
A 2,600 year-old mint has been found in Guanzhuang, China (640-550 BCE), which may be the oldest in the world—eclipsing Lydian mints (Uşak, Turkey) for this title. Take that, Herodotus. https://t.co/tg2fdOhl2w As someone who has written on Roman mints: This is exciting, y'all. 🪙 pic.twitter.com/KRmaP2FQ6N
— Dr. Sarah Bond (@SarahEBond) August 7, 2021
The researchers also found the site’s casting moulds “were carefully made with the aid of a measuring tool to regulate their size and minimize variation,” highlighting the ancient mint workers’ dedication to their craft.
While older metal coins have been discovered in ancient Ephesus (present-day Turkey), a contemporary minting operation has yet to be found there.