Earliest Pay Stub Shows Workers Were Paid in Beer

5K-year-old tablet found in Mesopotamian city of Uruk
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2016 8:11 AM CDT
Earliest Pay Stub Shows Workers Were Paid in Beer
The cuneiform tablet.   (British Museum)

Rather be paid in beer than money? You might've enjoyed life in Mesopotamia. Scientists have discovered one of the earliest examples of writing in the form of "the world's oldest known payslip." Dating to around 3300 BC, the clay tablet found in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk in modern-day Iraq and now housed at the British Museum—written in a picture language known as cuneiform—is just one example of how people kept records at the time, including of payments owed, per Ars Technica. As there was no real money, people were paid in other ways—in the case of this tablet, with beer. "We can see a human head eating from a bowl, meaning 'ration,' and a conical vessel, meaning 'beer.' Scattered around are scratches recording the amount of beer for a particular worker," Alison George writes at New Scientist.

The exchange is actually pretty normal, according to historical records. They show builders of the Egyptian pyramids at Giza were paid about a gallon of beer a day, while Richard II paid poet Geoffrey Chaucer some 252 gallons of wine per year in the Middle Ages. While it isn't clear how workers managed to focus on the job at hand, beer was thought of as a meal, so it was sort of like working for food. Apparently some wish we had stuck with the Mesopotamian custom. It's "a form of remuneration which seems pretty awesome when you first think about it... and then just keeps on staying awesome the longer you think about it," writes Peter Dockrill at Science Alert. George adds the tablet suggests "the concept of worker and employer was familiar five millennia ago." (These clay tablets might rewrite math history.)

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