Over the last several years in the near east, there have been occasional finds of ancient shell rings, circular sections cut from cone-shaped sea shells, polished, and used by the cultures of the time as a form of money.
The artifacts found at these sites date to 3500-3000 B.C., the time of the Sumerian settlements and early cities in Mesopotamia. The shell rings were found in Syria and undoubtedly are from shells brought inland from the Mediterranean coast.
Contemporary with Ur, Kish, Larsa, and other Sumerian cities in the south, there were large villages and cities in the north and west of the Fertile Crescent. The Syrian cities of Ebla, Alalakh, and Ugarit were economically and culturally advanced and were part of the trade route that ran overland to Assyria and along the Ruphrates to Mari and further south to Sumer.
International commerce in western Asia of the 4th millennium did not use the medium of money. (Gold and silver coinage came into being in the late 7th century B.C.) Instead, there was an exchange of different commodities, value being determined by negotiation between merchants. For local transactions of smaller worth and for the needs of daily life, however, the Syrians used the shell rings, usually carrying them on necklace string. Thus, these shell rings are a very early true currency.