From silver coins to Bitcoins

Moesgaard receives large grant from the Independent Research Foundation Denmark

Moesgaard Museum has received a large grant from the Independent Research Foundation Denmark for a project that will research the beginning and the process of monetisation in North Europe. The project entitled ‘Dark Age Economics’ is headed by archaeometallurgist Thomas Edward Birch from the museum's science department.

The plan is to examine the silver in a series of silver coins to uncover where the silver came from and, thus, give researchers an indication of whether monetary economy originated with a central power or among merchants crossing national borders.

How did monetisation begin?

Researchers hope to learn more about the weight-based payment system which began in the late part of the Iron Age in southern Scandinavia and evolved into a symbol-based payment system consisting of silver ‘sceattas’ used as currency in trade venues. The symbolic value can be compared to the way Bitcoin works today. The decentralized economic system established among the merchants was eventually replaced by a royally controlled implementation, which also operated outside the trading places. But how the monetisation actually began is still unknown. The key to understanding the monetary development lies in examining where the silver was extracted from and scientifically confirming the origin of this silver. Was 'old' silver from scrap silver reactivated and used as a symbolic currency, or was new metal from European mines required instead?

Using cutting-edge archaeological scientific techniques, the determination of the origin of the silver 'sceattas' will shed light on the evolution of prehistoric economy, which may help predict the future of today's decentralized digital economies.

The project is carried out in collaboration with the Danish National Museum, Aarhus University and Southwest Jutland Museums.