Gold coin of Croesus, c. 550BC, from modern Turkey.
Due to his immense wealth, Croesus, king of the Lydian people who reigned from about 560-547BC, is thought to have been one of the first rulers to mint gold coins. Historians claim that the coin, called a croesid, depicting a lion and a bull, provides an insight into the earliest uses of currency.
Left: Olduvai handaxe, 1.2-1.4 million years old, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania Right: Sutton Hoo Helmet, 7th century AD, Suffolk, England Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum
Handaxe found in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, around 1.2 million years old.
Fashioned from fine-grained, green volcanic lava called phonolite, this is one of the best surviving examples of the hand-held cutting tools which were first made in Olduvai Gorge about 1.5 million years ago. They were still in use there some 500,000 years ago by which time their manufacture and use had spread throughout Africa, south Asia, western Asia and Europe. No other cultural artefact is known to have been made for such a long time or across such a huge geographical range.
Helmet from the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, early 7th century AD.
In 1939, excavations at the Anglo-Saxon burial ground discovered this ornate iron helmet among treasure surrounding a man’s remains in a 7m oak ship. The level of craftsmanship, indicated by its decorative panels of tinned bronze inlaid with silver wire, signalled a radical shift in attitudes towards early Saxon society, which until then was though to have been substantially less sophisticated than the Roman period.
Chinese Zhou ritual bowl, c. 1100-1000BC, possibly from Henan Province, China.
Chinese Zhou ritual bowl, c. 1100-1000 BC, possibly Henan Province, China Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum
An inscription inside this ritual food vessel has provided historians with an account of a crucial transformation period in Chinese history when King Wu established the Zhou dynasty after conquering the Shang dynasty around 1050 BC. The practice, also employed by the Shang, demonstrates how the new rulers used the old traditions to secure their legitimacy despite the social upheaval.
Double-headed serpent, 15th-16th century AD, Mexico.
This serpent embodies both how the Aztec empire flourished and the story of their destruction. The turquoise that made up the serpent was probably given in tribute to the Aztec rulers by the subject peoples of their empire and helps show the tribute system on which their empire rested. It is possible that it was one of the treasures given by Moctezuma to Cortes.
Source: BBC News, Telegraph.co.uk, Wikipedia