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The abundance and nearly universal evidence of movement of exotic goods over diverse regions inhabited by people who were independent of each other – from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists, to farmers and city dwellers – points to the significance of currency as a uniting principle. For example, Americans who lived in the Early Formative Period dating from 1450 to 500 B. used obsidian, mother-of-pearl shell, iron ore and two kinds of pottery as currency to trade across the Americas in one of the earliest examples of a successful global trade.
The Maritime Silk Road trade, which occurred between A. 700 to 1450, connected Europeans, Asians and Africans in a global trade that was both transformational and foundational.
These included shells such as mother-of-pearl that were widely circulated in the Americas and cowry shells that were used in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Coinage as commodity money owes its success largely to its portability, durability, transportability and inherent value.
Native copper, meteorites or native iron, obsidian, amber, beads, copper, gold, silver and lead ingots have variously served as currency. Additionally, political leaders could control the production of coins – from mining, smelting, minting - as well as their circulation and use.
This coin was issued by Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty.
He was interested in political and trade missions to the lands beyond the South China Sea and sent Admiral Zheng He to explore those shores, nearly 80 years before Vasco da Gama reached India from Portugal.
The Mesopotamian shekel – the first known form of currency – emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The discovery of hordes of coins of lead, copper, silver and gold all over the globe suggests that coinage – especially in Europe, Asia and North Africa – was recognized as a medium of commodity money at the beginning of the first millennium A. The wide circulation of Roman, Islamic, Indian and Chinese coins points to premodern commerce (1250 B. Money soon became an instrument of political control.Taxes could be extracted to support the elite and armies could be raised.However, money could also act as a stabilizing force that fostered nonviolent exchanges of goods, information and services within and between groups.On the East African coast, there were local merchants and kings of the local Swahili who followed Islam and cultivated these external contacts with other Indian Ocean traders.
They wanted to facilitate business dealings, while merchants from the Near East and South Asia had their own Rolodexes of business contacts.
In the past, as today, no society was completely self-sustaining, and money allowed people to interact with other groups.