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World's Oldest Paycheck Shows Workers Were Paid in Beer

According to a cuneiform tablet, which is being called “the world’s oldest known payslip,” workers opted for rations of beer five millennia ago.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Five thousand years ago, beer was pretty lit.

Just weeks ago, a beer-making facility dating back five millennia was unearthed in China, demonstrating some pretty advanced brewing techniques and recipes. Clearly, for proto-beer factories to be set up so long ago, people were already hooked on the sweet and bitter notes of fermented barley. And now, there is even more evidence corroborating the eminence of beer in the Bronze Age.


During the very same period, in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, residents apparently enjoyed beer so much that they would take it in lieu of money for their hard work. According to one cuneiform tablet, which New Scientist is calling "the world's oldest known payslip," workers opted for rations of beer, distributed by their employers.

READ MORE: A 5,000-Year-Old Beer Recipe Has Been Found in China

Cuneiform was a picture language, and the tablet in question, now in the possession of the British Museum, had an image of a human eating from a bowl, signifying "ration," and a conical vessel, signifying "beer." Alison George of the New Scientist goes on to explain that "scattered around are scratches recording the amount of beer for a particular worker," allowing archaeologists to surmise that the tablet was a record of how workers were compensated by employers.

This finding is significant because it shows not only that people loved beer 5,000 years ago, but also that the economic relationship between employer and worker was already well-established. It also proves that things really haven't changed over the last 5,000 years.

Not unlike modern humans, it seems that these Mesopotamian laborers liked to let off some steam after a hard day of making pottery or ploughing fields and slam back a couple of cold ones.