Archaeologists in the township of Guanzhuang in China’s Henan Province have discovered the world’s oldest coin mint. The foundry, which dates back to between the years 640 and 550 BCE, contained several ancient items that included standardized coins, tools, spare parts, and ornaments.
More specifically, the items associated with the foundry included dozens of unused and used coin molds, metal debris and coin fragments, thousands of pits that contained production waste, over 6,000 clay molds that were used for bronze artifacts that included ritual vessels, chariot fittings, weapons, tools, ornaments, musical instruments, ladles, charcoal, crucibles, furnace fragments, and spade coins.
“The minting techniques employed at Guanzhuang are characterized by batch production and a high degree of standardization and quality control, indicating that the production of spade coins was not a small-scale, sporadic experiment, but rather a well-planned and organized process in the heartland of the Central Plains of China,” the study read.
They were quite odd looking as they didn’t look anything like the coins we see today (these ancient coins were called hollow-handle spade coins). In the new study, archaeologists described the significance of this discovery by writing that the “availability of coinage significantly reshaped economic and social institutions, both materially and ideologically,” and that the coins “provided human societies with new ways to evaluate wealth, prestige and power.” It is known that those who lived in township of Guanzhuang during ancient times did use spade coins.
Detailed analysis of the two spade coins that were found revealed that they were made mostly of copper with a bit of tin and lead. While the coins were broken, the researchers were able to determine by the molds that they would have been 14 centimeters tall by 6 centimeters wide. The coins were used up until 221 BCE when the First Emperor Qin got rid of them. (Pictures of the coins, core heads, and of the ancient foundry can be seen here.)
The oldest coins that have ever been found have been associated with China, Lydia (Western Asia Minor), and India. While there have also been other old mints found in connection to these places and are believed to date back to around the same time period as the foundry in Guanzhuang, their dates haven’t been confirmed using radiocarbon dating. Since the foundry in Guanzhuang has been radiocarbon dated, it is officially the “world’s oldest-known, securely dated minting site.”
The research was published in Antiquity where it can be read in full.