There's more to Yap than just mantas & spectacular diving. A mysterious island culture transcends the ages. Yapese man stands in front of two ancient pieces of stone money.
While Yap is best known for its incredible manta diving, crystal clear water, vertical drop-offs and flocks of eagle rays, there is one outstanding archeological curiosity that sets Yap apart from the rest of the Pacific Islands.
Most of the world's greatest archeological treasures are constructed of stone, a material that withstands the destructive ravages of time, weather and man. The best known examples are the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island's stone heads, the stone spheres of Costa Rica and so on. Yet one of the more mysterious artifacts on earth is Yap's collection of stone money.
Stone money bank in the jungle.
This tiny island in southwest Micronesia is the only place where stone money has ever been "minted" and used for commerce. Yapese myths claim that an ancient navigator sailed his canoe 250 miles to the neighboring island of Palau and discovered a sparkling rock, which today's geologists call "crystalline calcite." This material forms the colorful, glistening walls of limestone caves that honeycomb Palau's Rock Islands.
According to the legend, the navigator instructed his sailing crew to carve pieces of rock in the shape of a full moon. A hole was cut in the center of the stone disks so that they could be carried on wooden poles. Radioactive carbon dating indicates the Yapese may have been producing stone money as far back as 1,500 to 2,000 years ago.
During the early years, ancient stone money was carved in Palau, loaded onto outrigger canoes for the perilous journey back to Yap. Many canoes and their crews were lost in storms, but those who made it back were regarded as heroes and their stones were considered the most valued prizes on the island. Some stone money was quarried on Yap itself, but retained less value. Other stone money pieces were brought from Guam and as far away as Formosa. Unfortunately, almost half of all the stone money was lost or destroyed during World War II. The estimated number remaining is approximately 6,600 pieces.
The Yapese still treasure their strange currency. Known locally as "rai" the value of a stone money piece is determined more by its age and history than by its size. Most of the stone tablets range in size from 3 to 5 feet in diameter. The largest piece is believed to measure 12 feet across and there are many pieces that measure 8 to 10 feet. Much of the stone money is kept in village owned "stone money banks" located deep in the jungle.
Yap stone money is such a unique archeological oddity that stone money pieces are on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution and other museums in the U.S., Russia, Japan and Germany. Banks in Switzerland and the U.S. have acquired stone money pieces as well. The stone money is so fascinating that even Walt Disney Productions published a Donald Duck comic book on the subject entitled: "The Stone Money Mystery." Today, it is against the law to export Yap's traditional stone money.