The old staff dining room ( in the top photo) lies directly underneath the State Dining room. Of course, it is no longer used as such and is, in fact, the opening room and introduction to the Egyptian Exhibition. Display cabinets are arranged around it, in one of which is a collection of objects based around writing and coins.
From children we have grown up with the painted scenes of Egyptian life found in tombs, often quite marvellously preserved despite their antiquity. Amidst the gods and goddesses there are often quite surprisingly mundane scenes: perhaps grain being collected or goods being exchanged in markets. Ancient Egypt society was based on large-scale production, cereal growing and some manufacturing in terms of building materials and pottery for home.
On one excavation, the 5th Earl (of Tutankhamun fame) found a papyrus contract which set out property rights and ownership. There are other records which talk about a unit of measurement called the shat. For example, in one record from 2750-2150 BC the description reads “I acquired this house against payment from the scribe Chenti. I paid ten shat for it, namely fabric (worth) three shat; a bed (worth) four shat; material (worth) three shat”. To which the defendant declared: “You made the payments (of ten shat). The higher unit of value was the Deneb but neither were seemingly supported by coins. There are further records of taxes levied on harvest and property but payable in grain or by labour rather than money.
In fact, the earliest coins came later and have been dated to Ptolemaic times in the last millennium of the ancient civilisation. Initially, they were made of electrum, a compound of gold and silver. Over time they were carved, engraved, embossed, stamped and printed, telling us about changing worlds and values. They began to represent individual measures of worth through the materials they were made of such as silver, copper or bronze. Today, the actual metal value of the coins has been reduced to a more symbolic amount and are not backed by gold assets such as in the past.
We have found a few coins here, perhaps dropped by travellers passing by or by those who lived here and were walking home. An unusual one is from the Atrebates tribe (the time of Julius Caesar), there is one from the time of Charles I or Elizabeth I, others are much later. Elsewhere in the UK, hoards of coins have been found buried, probably in advance of invaders or intruders, with the owner sadly not able to return.
Rather like in ancient Egyptian times, the units of value in 2020 allow the purchase of everyday items. Coins are increasingly rare with notes made of paper or plastic. International currencies are compared, money borrowed based on an assessment of credit or perhaps borrowed anyway on the promise or hope it can be paid back at some point in the future, with interest, inflation, devaluation and the problem postponed.
The UK “Pound” is derived from the word meaning weight, in this case of the money. Sadly, over the last few months it has been far too easy to pile on the pounds in every sense of the word and many of us are now trying to reduce the wrong type of pounds we have acquired during lockdown. At some point governments too will have to find ways to reduce their “weight gains” in terms of borrowed pounds.
We will all have to pay the piper, tighten our belts and the challenge is to try not to overload the future. In the meantime, I suspect it’s back to keep calm and carry on with the yoga.