The SILVER Project: or how silver became money...
You can never be too old to benefit from a European Community grant: on the eve of his 70th birthday, Francis Albarède, Professor Emeritus at the ENS de Lyon, has just obtained an ERC Advanced grant for a research project that he is passionate about and has worked on for several years. A topic that will be of interest to many people as it includes geochemistry, history, economics and geography. The SILVER project will enable him to study the composition of silver coins from the Ancient times (Greek and Roman) until 250 A.D., thanks to the very latest technology used on a daily basis by geochemists. The study will research the origin of coinage and the link between economic development in addition to the circulation of money and cult objects.
"The large statues in solid silver in temples had a religious purpose, for sure; but it was also a great way to store wealth" stresses the geochemist who continues: "The SILVER project is relevant to our modern economy as it reflects a situation that is now familiar to us. All the money extracted from the major producing provinces (Persia, then the Aegean Sea and the south of Spain) gradually went to Arabia, India and Africa, thus ensuring the successive ruin of empires built on this single precious metal". At the time, money was the basis of the current economy: it allows us to pay salaries and make payments, as well as ordinary transactions. Gold is too rare to be really useful in terms of the population’s payment needs. As for copper, it was used for small change as it was so light, in Ptolemy’s Egypt for example, it had so little value that they had to make heavy coins. In addition, using copper for money competed with the demand for bronze used for weapons. Silver was therefore used as a symbol of wealth and it is the study of this movement that is the subject of this project.
In practical terms, the SILVER project will consist of:
- the recruitment of 6 post-doctoral students
- a job opening for 2 doctoral students
- a partnership with the Mine History Museum in Bochum (Germany)
"We won’t need to buy a lot of material" announced Francis Albarède, "the plasma-source Multicollection mass spectrometer will be used to measure variations in isotopic abundances." This equipment was in fact acquired by the laboratory in the mid-1990s, with the financial support of the local authorities- it was the first in Europe! - and that it was a research engineer, winner of the CNRS Cristal prize, Philippe Telouk, who is conducting research on "Albarède’s blunderbuss". The technical team is actively involved, alongside the researchers, in the SILVER project.
His biography in a few words
Francis Albarède, a geochemist, is an emblematic figure of the ENS de Lyon, which he joined in 1991. He has invested a great deal in teaching and research in the Geology Laboratory of Lyon Earth Planet Environment (LGL-TPE). Since 2015 he has been an Professor Emeritus of the ENS de Lyon, but he is still an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Rice University in Texas. His awards and distinctions are numerous, including: CNRS silver medal in 1988, Goldschmidt Award of the Geochemical Society in 2008, Légion d'honneur in 2008.
Laboratoire de géologie de Lyon Terre Planète Environnement - LGL-TPE (Geology lab)
Mine History Museum (Bochum)