Sphendonoid weight - ROM2014_14143_1


Sphendonoid weight

Medium:Hematite, carved and polished
Geography: Possibly excavated at Naukratis, Egypt
Date: c. 1400-1200 BC
Period: Late 18th to early 19th Dynasty, New Kingdom
3.8 × 2.7 × 2.7 cm, 43.5 g
Object number: 909.80.405
Not on view

Currency in the form of coins was introduced into Egypt during the Late Period, but for most of Ancient Egyptian history a barter-exchange system based on the value of various weights of silver or copper was used. Goods were valued in terms of how much copper or silver would be required to buy them, and then exchanged for other goods with the same value in metal.  For example, an Ostracon from Deir el Medina, #73, verso, described by Jac Jansen in Commodity Prices from the Ramesside Period (Leiden, 1975) gives an example of a coffin worth 25.5 deben of copper, which was purchased for two goats, one pig, two sycamore logs, and 13.5 deben of actual copper. There are many such exchanges recorded from Ancient Egypt.  Units of grain and oils were also used in exchange-barter. As in modern economies, rates of exchange varied with supply. The weight, in grams, of a deben changed from the Old and New Kingdoms to the Late Period, but a qedet, (also known as a kite) was always valued at one tenth of a deben.

In addition to the ordinary system of deben and quedet, the Egyptians used measuring systems borrowed from their neighbours in Mesopotamia, Syria and the Aegean.  These were introduced by traders and merchants, and by soldiers.

This hematite weight carved into a sphendonoid shape has not yet been identified with any of the known systems.  This is not unusual for metal weights, however.  As Flinders Petrie, who excavated many weights at Naukratis cautioned, “Metal weights have almost always undergone alteration over the centuries, both losing and gaining weight. The loss is by wear, by solution of compounds, and, especially on bronze weights, by scaling of compounds; the gain is by the oxygen and carbonic acid locked up in the compounds, for nearly half the weight of green carbonate of copper is gain from the air.” Glass Stamps and Weights, British School of Archaeology, 1926, p.22.

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