The concept that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are revolutionary and entirely new concepts may not be entirely accurate, says a new study by researchers at the University of Oregon. In fact, these archaeologists may have discovered evidence that a system eerily similar to the cryptocurrency process may have been in place using large stone rocks from limestone in the Yap islands and its neighbors.
The old system in Yap was relatively straightforward. They seem to have transacted using large stone rocks, some of them weighing more than a car and many being taller than the average man. It seems almost impossible that this primitive system could be a precursor to blockchain transactions used in the year 2018, but researchers find that the truth of the comparison lies largely in the process by which the currencies are mined and traded with neighbors.
The Mining Process
For Bitcoin, the mining process is simple. Miners are paid very small portions of the transactions that they verify on the blockchain through a complicated, mathematics-involved process. Once the miner verifies the transaction, they are given a portion of the transaction’s value and then the parties involved in the transaction are given their Bitcoin.
In Yap, the currency was called rai. These large rocks had a hole cut into the middle of them to signify their status as a currency, rather than simply a coincidentally-sized rock. In Yap, the nearest place to gain access to the limestone needed to make the pieces of currency was nearly 400 kilometers away in Micronesia.
Researchers theorize that miners would negotiate with leaders in these islands in order to gain access to their valuable limestone deposits, then journeying the massive way over to the island in order to quarry the limestone in order to make their tokens. They would create the large piece of rock as a currency with their trademark circular hole in the middle, before sending them back to Yap upon large rafts.
When they finally got home, the colorful currencies were displayed in front of the town to be valued by leaders. The leaders assessed value based on several parameters, including size, evenness, quality of stone, as well as the riskiness of the journey. These currencies were then eventually put on display at community areas of the small village, including community healing places and ritualized dancing grounds.
Key Similarities To Bitcoin
The first significant similarity found by researchers on the Yap investigation is that both the Bitcoin and the rai mining process are incredibly public—and with purpose. For Bitcoin, the mining process is transparent as the verification of the mining transaction is public. Everyone on the network needs to know that a transaction has been verified, or else it will not continue to hold any value as a mediator of financial transactions.
This bears striking resemblance to the “showing off” part of the rai mining process. For all to see, the miners describe how the journey that contributed to the finding of the rai went. This is done for everyone to see, and it helps to verify the legitimacy of the token. Additionally, the value is partially derived from this process. Without some risk in the voyage, the rai would be effectively worthless; much like Bitcoin would be if transactions were not verified in a complex mathematical process.
Storage in public space is yet another similarity between the two. While traditional monetary systems commend people who store their currency privately and interact financially behind closed doors, both Bitcoin and the rai system were systems built on public showing of finances. For the rai, tokens were put in public spaces, both their value and their aesthetic splayed out for all of the community to see.
Similarly, Bitcoin is a public network by nature. The blockchain stores all information on an immutable public ledger. This means that, like the rai, both the value and the presence of Bitcoin on the network is readily available to anyone that wants to look at it. Bitcoin seems to follow in the footsteps of the rai rather than traditional currencies in modernity when it comes to the way transactions and wealth are shown.
The final big similarity between the two systems is the ability of participants on the market to access a full history of transactions. This is obvious on the Bitcoin blockchain. The decentralized ledger is a financial tool which automatically tracks and keeps record of all transactions. This cannot be changed, which means that any user can gain access to info regarding where their token has moved.
In the rai system, the uniqueness of each token means that an oral transaction history was always available. One would simply have to ask the previous owner of their rai who they had gotten it from. Because the rai were all so different from one another, it was easy for members of the village to transmit information regarding who had at one point held onto the rai being discussed.
A Legitimate Comparison
One of the main reasons that the comparison between the two currencies, separated by hundreds of years of technological innovation and discovery, is so legitimate is the uniqueness attributed to the respective tokens. The Bitcoin blockchain is much different than the fiat cash system because, unlike with bills, a public log is able to track the movement of unique tokens on its ledger.
Similarly, the rai was made in such a way that made it both unique and uniquely trackable. The system is, in its own way, entirely public. There is transparency in every step of the process, from the mining of the limestone 400 kilometers away to the hoisting of the coin above a communal space. Much like Bitcoin, the value of the system is derived from precisely this, the transparency with which transactions occur.
As odd as it might seem, these primitive societies might have held the precursor to the modern blockchain system which continues to change the world.