Ancient gold and silver coins are the centrepiece of a new exhibit at the University of Calgary's Nickle Galleries that explores the history of currencies from around the world.

The earliest coins appeared around the 6th century BC, but they didn't resemble the loonies and toonies Canadians use today.

"Objects existed before currency existed," said Marina Fischer, curator of Money Through The Ages. "It started with piece of metal, or chunks of metal."

For centuries, coins were weighed to determine their value. The world's first coins were minted in Lydia, or modern-day Turkey, followed by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

These civilizations imprinted many different images on their currencies, such as animals, rulers and gods.

The Calgary exhibit gives visitors a glimpse at the first coins to be accepted internationally — the face of the Greek goddess Athena and the Athenian owl.

Athenian owl coin

Nickle Galleries curator Marina Fischer says the Greek Athenian owl coin was the first currency in the world to be accepted internationally. (CBC)

Head of Athena

An ancient Greek silver coin depicting the helmeted head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. (CBC)

"At first, the coins were issued by private citizens and after that we start to see the cities, as a collective, issuing [them]," said Fischer.

"Then after that with Alexander the Great, we see the switch to the rulers controlling the currency."

Fischer said money was used by ancient rulers as a form of propaganda.

"They were able to fit incredible amounts of texts on these little tiny pieces of metal that communicated with their people."

Coin exhibit Calgary

For centuries, coins were weighted to determine their value. (CBC)

With files from the CBC's Monty Kruger