Thursday 5 July 2018

The Origins of Wealth (Part 1 of 4)

NJ Bridgewater

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Human Origins and Anthropology

What are the origins of wealth, and where does it come from? This is a question upon which volumes could be written, and thinkers and scholars have tried to answer for centuries. It is only with archaeological, anthropological and historical research that we are finally finding answers to that very question. The origins of wealth are intimately linked to the origins of money and trade, which can both be traced back to the earliest origins of humanity. This has been demonstrated by the famous Cypherphunk, computer scientist, legal scholar and cryptographer, Nick Szabo, who developed an early form of cryptocurrency called Bitgold and is a leading proponent of Bitcoin.[1] He is also responsible for developing the concept of ‘smart contracts’, which form the basis of Ethereum, NEO and other prominent cryptocurrencies.[2] In an article published in 2002, entitled “Shelling Out: The Origins of Money”, Szabo explains that the earliest form of money consisted of collectibles such as beads, shells etc.[3] In the late 1990s, archaeologist Stanley Ambrose discovered a cache of beads made from a variety of shells and shell fragments, with these being dated to at least 40,000 years ago, while other collections of strung beads have been found in Blombos Cave in South Africa, dating to 75,000 BP (Before Present).[4]

The Great Rift Valley, Kenya[5]

Modern man is believed to have originated in Africa, with many of the earliest remains being found in the Great Rift Valley, as well as in the Cradle of Humankind. The former, also known as the East African Rift System (EARS), stretches north to south through East Africa, wending its way through Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.[6] This marks the boundary between the Nubian Plate, which makes up most of Africa, and the smaller Somalian Plate, which are moving away from each other, as well as from the Arabian plate further north, with the three plates meeting in the Afar region of Ethiopia.[7] The Cradle of Humankind refers to a stretch of 180 square miles of open grasslands and sundry trees located an hour northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa.[8] It is still uncertain as to which part of Africa humanity originated from, with 97% of the continent yet to be investigated by fossil hunters, and an abundance of fossil evidence and new discoveries emerging in both South and East Africa.[9] What is known is that anatomically-modern human beings left Africa between 60,000 and 200,000 years ago, and that mitochondrial Eve and y-chromosomal Adam emerged in Africa. According to one study by geneticist Carlos Bustamente, Y-chromosomal Adam, the single male ancestor of all mankind, may have lived between between 125,000 and 156,000 years ago, while mitochondrial Eve, the ancestor of all direct female lines, lived between 99,000 and 148,000 years ago.[10] Another study, by Michael Hammer, places y-chromosomal Adam further back, at between 237,000 and 581,000 years ago.[11] If true, this means that human beings have a truly ancient origin and deep roots within the African continent—the birthplace and homeland of all mankind.

Stone Age Money and Trade

It is no surprise, then, that a recent discovery in a cave in Kenya has revealed yet more evidence of mankind’s ancient use of collectibles. Archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of more than 30,000 items, including 48,000-year-old crayons and shell beads. Researchers, led by archaeologist Dr. Ceri Shipton, have found an unbroken record of human habitation in the cave dating back some 78,000 years, right up until about 500 years ago.[12] The cave, called Panga ya Saidi, is located on the Kenyan south coast, just north of Mombasa, and includes such assorted items as decorated bones, beads made from shells or ostrich eggs, stone tools and arrow-heads made of bone.[13] The treasures of Panga ya Saidi include the earliest bead discovered in Kenya, which dates between 67,000 and 63,000 years ago.[14] Around 33,000 years ago, beads made from shells some 9 miles away became popular, and, around 25,000 years ago, beads made of ostrich shells predominated.[15]  This was followed by seashells, some 10,000 years ago, which became the standard material of choice.[16] What does all of this have to do with wealth? Nick Szabo argues that collecting and making necklaces was costly, so it must have had a significant selection benefit.[17] The time and effort taken to make necklaces when human beings lived on the brink of starvation is truly remarkable, and it reflects an important social advantage.

Egyptian Shell beads (2030 – 1640 BC)[18] 
 Kikuyu woman wearing traditional beads[19]

Money, in essence, is a means of exchange. When someone does something for us, we often feel the need to reciprocate, trading favours for favours. Within a complex social system, it is impossible to keep track of all of these favours. Ancient man used a variety of stone tools and other implements. How can one possibly keep track of all the favours owed to people who manufactured or traded these tools? Also, there may be other intangible favours which are exchanged, marriages enacted between different clans, the trading of furs and meat, and many other items which require some kind of reciprocal arrangement. A means of exchange, therefore, is necessary, and collectibles, such as beads and necklaces, served as the earliest form of money. In such ancient, Palaeolithic societies, people did not live in a state of shared ownership or primitive communism, as Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) argued. Rather, the earliest human beings were also the earliest capitalists, with capitalism being the natural and most ancient state of affairs. Barter was one method of transacting wealth, through the exchange of one type of good directly for another. This, however, has limitations, since some goods are perishable and most goods are not fungible, i.e. can be divided and exchanged for an equal amount of the same item. Gold can be divided into coins of greater or lesser weight, whereas a stone tool cannot. Beads can be exchanged in greater or lesser amounts and are thus fungible. Since they take time to carve and string together, they also hold intrinsic value (according to the intrinsic theory of value, as supported by the economist David Ricardo). Beads and shells are thus the earliest form of money.

Capitalism in Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Marxism is a defunct ideology—a shell of an idea—which has long since been disproven, and which has always produced disastrous results when put into action. Not even counting the countless millions or billions who have died as a direct result of Marxism and communism, it cannot even be used on the smallest scale without abject failure and embarrassment. In fact, some 80 – 94 million people are estimated to have died as a direct result of communist genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations and artificial famines.[20] This does not, of course, count the untold millions who have suffered from the indirect effects of communism. I would, in fact, not mention Marxism at all, nor is it worthy of any study or consideration, except for the fact that a large number of people are still swayed by its deleterious doctrines and deceptive assumptions. It is, in short, one of the most ruinous ideas to have ever been conceived by man. It includes a number of fallacious assumptions, such as Engels’ notion that primitive man lived in a state of communism, that early man shared women and had no fixed marriages, and that commerce and capitalism are more modern developments.[21] On the contrary, as Szabo demonstrates, collectibles served as the first form of money (or proto-money), which had concrete values that were far from arbitrary.[22] Commerce, likewise, was incredibly ancient. Szabo argues that since individuals, clans and tribes vary in their preference, their ability to satisfy these preferences and their beliefs about the relative value of various objects or products of importance to them vary and, therefore, “there are always gains to made from trade”.[23] In other words, there was always an advantage to be made from trading goods and services, and transaction costs were low enough to make trading worthwhile.[24] For a further dressing-down (as well as explication) of Marxism and its notorious founder, Karl Marx, one need look no further than Marxism: Philosophy and Economics by Thomas Sowell.[25] However, for a better understanding of economics and capitalism, one should read Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy,[26]  as well as his Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One.[27] 

Maasai people celebrating a wedding in Kenya[28]

Far from being communists, ancient hunter-gatherers were capitalists, and the relative wealth and power of individuals and clans would vary, rather than being uniform. Moreover, hunter-gather groups which have survived today, such as the !Kung, spend much of the year in small, dispersed bands, but, once a year, they aggregate with other bands to allow for trade, the formation of alliances and partnerships, and the transaction of marriages.[29] Marriage, therefore, and the family structure, is truly ancient. Related to this is the exchange of wealth in the form of a dowry or bride price, and the inheritance of goods from one generation to the next, all of which bely the fanciful notions of Marx and his collaborator, Engels. Walker et al (2011), for example, argue that the exchange of mates among kin groups and accompanying networks or economic exchange, including bride service (as practiced by the !Kung) and bride price, “arguably create the foundation of human social organization”.[30] They also found that the practice of bride price or bride service was present in 80% of a comparative sample of 190 hunter-gatherer groups, with only 20% of men practising polygyny.[31] This suggests that, in hunter-gatherer societies, marriage is intimately linked with trade and the exchange of wealth, and that monogamy is the norm. Such gatherings for trade, marriage and the formulation of contracts and agreements, were intimately linked with mankind’s oldest form of social adhesion and organization, i.e. religion.

Ancient shamanic headdresses from the Mesolithic (i.e. the ‘Middle Stone Age’) indicate that ritualism and spirituality were present in early hunter-gatherer societies, with research demonstrating that a significant amount of time and effort went into creating the ritual headdresses.[32] Pilgrimage or visits to sacred sites have also been found among Australian aborigines and Native Americans,[33] indicating, perhaps, that the practice has ancient origins. While the religious practices of ancient hunter-gatherers are, ultimately, unknown, religion may have played a role in the transition from nomadic to semi-nomadic and, eventually, settled lifestyles, with Göbekli Tepe, which we will refer to later on, as a prime example of this transition, at the very beginning of what would become the Agricultural Revolution. The ancient role of Mecca (Makkah) as a ritual centre, and the centrality of the Kaaba, is another example of the importance of shared beliefs and religious rites in organizing and uniting diverse tribes and clans of nomadic and semi-nomadic people. The Kaaba’s role as a sacred gathering-place and shrine is said to date back to the second millennium BC.[34] According to Ibn Habib (d. 859/60), in pre-Islamic times, the Kaaba was referred to as bayt Allāh (the ‘House of God’) or bayt al-‘Arab (the ‘House of Arabs’), while Ibn Hisham (d. 833 AD) refers to the foundations of the Kaaba as the asās Ibrahīm (the ‘foundations of Abraham’),[35] indicating that the original structure was built by the Prophet Abraham (who may have lived c. 2100 – 1800 BC).[36] Such shrine-cities serve as gathering-places for annual festivals, where trade and commerce can take place, war and conflict is forbidden, and knowledge and technology can be shared. It is no surprise, then, that the first cities were also based around ritual centres and temples.

Women and Wealth in Ancient Societies

The distribution of wealth among the sexes is also widely misunderstood, with women wielding far greater economic power than is commonly believed. Friedrich Engels (1820 - 1895), Marx’s collaborator and patron (and, ironically, himself a businessman), believed that mankind was originally matriarchal, with women leading society. This is largely due to his irrational obsession with power dynamics and his narrow belief in the controller-controlled stratification of society and human relations. The Marxian worldview is bipolar and dichotomous, black-and-white and simplistic. Engels believed that this primitive matriarchy was then replaced by another fanciful notion, i.e. that of the patriarchy. The ‘patriarchy’ is the bugaboo or bogeyman of our era, a made-up notion of an all-encompassing conspiracy of the male to subjugate and control the female. This widely-debunked conspiracy theory is a product of Engels’ limited, 19th-century imagination. He famously stated that man’s “unlimited rule was emphasized and endowed with continuity by the downfall of the matriarchy, the introduction of patriarchy, and the gradual transition from the pairing family to the monogamic family.”[37] This notion is overthrown, first and foremost, by how commonplace monogamy is among hunter-gatherer tribes, and the likely antiquity of both monogamy and the bride price or bride service. Modern hunter-gatherers operate, furthermore, on an egalitarian basis, with an equal control over decisions as to where groups live and who they associate with.[38] This suggests that equality, rather than matriarchy, is the most ancient order within families and communities. Moreover, women have, historically, been in control of a large portion of the wealth of mankind.

The gold headdress of Queen Puabi (c. 2600 BC)[39]

Women’s control over wealth can be indicated not only from ancient Stone Age jewellery, which served as both a form of proto-money and adornment, and, likely, was used for marriage transactions, but also from the earliest civilizations, including ancient Mesopotamia. The average well-to-do woman, for example, in ancient Mesopotamia wore gold and silver rings on their arms and feet, having a standard weight of 5 shekels (55 grams), which was identical to standard fractions of the bride price, indicating that the wealth transacted in the bride price was not only worn, but also controlled, by women.[40] This indicates that women were not merely being bought and sold but, rather, were in control of a large share of the wealth of mankind. This was as true then as it is now, with women in the U.S. controlling 51% of private wealth (i.e. $14 trillion USD)—estimated to be as much as $22 trillion by 2020.[41] In fact, women are expected to control as much as two-thirds of private wealth in three years’ time,[42] and they already control about 30% of private wealth worldwide.[43] This distribution of wealth undermines Engels’ arguments regarding ‘the patriarchy’. Patriarchy suggests, furthermore, control and antagonism between the sexes, a notion that has become central to the erroneous arguments of modern feminism. The reality is that, for most of history, life has been brutally hard for the vast majority of mankind, and men and women, husbands and wives, have cooperated together, and supported one another, in order to get by. Antagonism and control, therefore, as part of some kind of organized patriarchal conspiracy, has never been the case. And, as life has become easier and better for the vast majority of mankind over the last century or so, equality between the sexes is being realized in both civil society and the wider economy. Women, in general, have always had significant access to wealth and that is likely to remain the case, despite ideologically-motivated Marxist and feminist arguments to the contrary. As Jordan Peterson writes in his epic book, 12 Rules for Life, the “so-called oppression of the patriarchy was instead an imperfect collective attempt by men and women over millennia, to free each other from privation and drudgery.”[44] Nor should we ignore the incredible burden men have borne throughout the ages, both in protecting and providing for families, and in their service in the military, as well as in the toils and rigours of factory-work and mining during the Industrial Revolution.


[1] See: Nick Szabo (Wikipedia article). URL: (accessed 02/07/2018 09:26 AST).
[2] See: Smart contract (Wikipedia article). URL: (accessed 02/07/2018 09:26 AST).
[3] See: Nick Szabo (2002) Shelling Out: The Origins of Money, Satoshi Nakamoto Institute. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[4] See: Szabo (2002).
[5] Image source: Another view of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, uploaded 1 November 2010 by Shankar.s (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license). URL: (accessed 02/07/2018). For more information on the license, see: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[6] See: James Wood, Alex Guth (2005-2018) East Africa's Great Rift Valley: A Complex Rift System, URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[7] See: Wood & Guth (2005-2018).
[8] See: Evan Hadingham (2015) Where Is the Birthplace of Humankind? South Africa and East Africa Both Lay Claims, National Geographic, September 11, 2015. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[9] See: Hadingham (2015).
[10] See: Tia Ghose (2013) Genetic ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ Uncovered, LiveScience, August 1, 2013 02:00pm ET. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[11] See: Ghose (2013).
[12] See: Aaron Walker (2018) Kenyan cave sheds new light on dawn of modern man, Australian National University, 10 May 2018. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[13] See: Walker (2018).
[14] See: Jason Daley (2018) People Lived in This Cave for 78,000 Years,, May 11, 2018. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[15] See: Daley (2018).
[16] See: Daley (2018).
[17] See: Szabo (2002).
[18] Image source: String of cowrie shell beads on fiber, from Egypt, Memphite Reigion, Lisht South, MMA excavations, Rogers Fund, 1932. Creative Commons Zero (CCO) designation. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018). See the following link for more information on the Open Access policy for this photograph: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[19] Image source: Kikuyu woman with face painted white and red, wearing several necklaces with shell beads, uploaded by Angela Sevin, 5 August 2008 06:27(Attribution CC BY 2.0). URL: (accessed 02/07/2018). For more information on the license, see: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[20] See: Marian L. Tupy (2017) 100 Years of Communism: Death and Deprivation, Cato Institute, October 28, 2017. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[21] See: Friedrich Engels (author), Ernest Untermann (translator) (1902) The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company). Available online at: (accessed 01/07/2018).
[22] See: Szabo (2002).
[23] See: Szabo (2002).
[24] See: Szabo (2002).
[25] Thomas Sowell (1985) Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (London: Routledge).
[26] Thomas Sowell (2014) Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy (Washington: The Perseus Books Group)
[27] Thomas Sowell (2009) Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One (New York: Basic Books)
[28] Image source: Masai people celebrating a wedding, Kenya, uploaded 17 July 2016, 08:07:19 by Farid Mahmoud Abdin (own work) (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International). URL: (accessed 02/07/2018). For more information on the license, see: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[29] See: Szabo (2002).
[30] See: Robert S. Walker, Kim R. Hill, Mark V. Flinn, Ryan M. Ellsworth (2011) Evolutionary History of Hunter-Gatherer Marriage Practices, PLoS One, 2011; 6(4): e19066. Published online 2011 Apr 27. URL: (accessed 01/07/2018).
[31] See: Walker et al (2011).
[32] See: Brooks Hays (2016) Headdress study highlights ancient hunter-gatherer rituals,, April 13, 2016 at 3:42 PM. URL: (accessed 05/07/2018).
[33] See: Robert L. Winzeler (2012) Anthropology and Religion: What We Know, Think, and Question (Lanham, Md.: Altamira Press), p. 137.
[34] See: Ziauddin Sardar (2014) Mecca: The Sacred City (London: Bloomsbury Publishing), p. 13.
[35] See: Peter Webb (2013) The Hajj before Muhammad: Journeys to Mecca in Muslim Narratives of Pre-Islamic History. In Venetia Porter, Liana Saif (editors) (2013) The Hajj: Collected Essays (London: The British Museum), p. 9. Available online at: (accessed 05/07/2018).
[36] See: Cynthia Astle (2018) Archaeological Evidence About the Biblical Story of Abraham, ThoughtCo., updated June 30, 2018. URL: (accessed 05/07/2018) ; NOVA (2018) Archeology of the Hebrew Bible, NOVA, 11.18.08. URL: (accessed 05/07/2018).
[37] See: Engels (author), Untermann (translator) (1902), p. 1.
[38] See: Hannah Devlin (2015) Early men and women were equal, say scientists, The Guardian, 14 May 2015 22.58 BST. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018)
[39] Image source: Queen Puabi (wrongly called Shubad), Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania to Mesopotamia Hall, H. R. (Harry Reginald), 1873-1930, ed Woolley, Leonard, Sir, 1880-1960 Legrain, Leon, 1878- ed. Image is in the public domain. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[40] See: M. Stol (1995) Women in Mesopotamia, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Vol. 38, No. 2, Women's History (1995), pp. 123-144. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[41] See: Ryan Gorman (2015) Women now control more than half of US personal wealth, which 'will only increase in years to come', Business Insider, Apr 7, 2015, 12:20 PM. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[42] See: Alessandra Malito (2017) Women are about to control a massive amount of wealth but can’t find anyone to manage it,, May 15, 2017 12:25 p.m. ET. URL: (accessed 02/07/2018).
[43] See: Michael Tindera (2016) Women Hold Nearly One Third Of Global Private Wealth, Forbes, Jun 16, 2016 @ 08:00 AM. URL:  (accessed 02/07/2018).
[44] See: Jordan B. Peterson (2018) 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (London, etc.: A. Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books), p. 304.

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