‘World’s oldest’ coin factory discovered in China

Archaeologists excavating the remains of Guanzhuang—an ancient city in China’s eastern Henan Province—have discovered what they believe is the oldest-known coin mint, where miniature, shovel-shaped bronze coins were mass produced some 2,600 years ago.

Their research, published today in the journal Antiquity, gives weight to the idea that the first coins were minted not in Turkey or Greece, as long thought, but in China.

The walled and moated city of Guanzhuang was established about 800 B.C., and its foundry— where bronze was cast and beaten into ritual vessels, weapons, and tools—opened in 770 B.C., according to Hao Zhao, an archaeologist at Zhengzhou University and the paper’s lead author. But it wasn’t for another 150 years that workers began minting coins outside the southern gate of the inner city.

Using radiocarbon dating, the team determined the mint began operating sometime between 640 B.C. and no later than 550 B.C. While other research has dated coins from the Lydian Empire in what is now Turkey to as early as 630 B.C., Zhao notes that the earliest mint known to have produced Lydian coins dates to sometime between 575 B.C. and 550 B.C.