That beaver pelt will cost you 3 bronze ax blades and 7 rings.

The modern world runs on a constant flow of money that has its roots in simpler proto-currencies pioneered on regional levels by ancient peoples.

Two archaeologists believe they have identified a very early example of commodity money in Europe, used some 3,500 years ago during the Bronze Age, with denominations that took the form of bronze rings, ribs and ax blades.

People at that time frequently buried collections of these items, leaving a wealth of scattered hoards across the European continent.

Researchers in the Netherlands compared the weight of more than 5,000 Bronze Age rings, ribs and blades. Seventy percent of the rings were so close in mass - averaging about seven ounces - that they would have been indistinguishable if weighed by hand.

''It's very clear standardization,'' one researcher said.

The ribs and ax blades are not quite as uniform and such shapes did have enough to collectively demonstrate ''the earliest development of commodity money in prehistoric Central Europe.'' [Becky Ferreira]


Dire wolf wasn't part of the family, and that may have doomed it.

The dire wolf, an animal many people know from its fictional incarnation in North America up to about  11,000 years ago, or perhaps even later. It preyed on large animals like extinct horses, bison, sloths and even mammoths.

The dire wolf was bout 20 percent larger on average than the gray wolf, and it was long considered a sister species, Canus dirus rather than Canis lupus.

But an  international team of scientists have reported that the first sequencing between the two species, big enough that the dire wolf is not just a separate species but a separate genus.

They resurrected an old name, Aenocycyon, for the genus; the dire wolf is the sole species in the genus.

Another surprise was that the dire wolf didn't seem to interbreed with other species, as dogs, wolves, coyotes and other canids do.

They speculated that the lack of interbreeding with such species, which are notably adaptable, may have made the dire wolf less able to adapt to the disappearance of its main prey species. [James Gorman]


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