Business & Finance, History & Heritage

The world’s oldest paycheck was cashed in beer


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The world’s oldest paycheck has apparently been discovered and it is claimed that it was spent on booze. New Scientist has a great article about a recent archaeology finding that shows the world’s oldest known paycheck — written in a picture language known as cuneiform — was cashed in beer! Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages, possibly dating back to the early Neolithic or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed, and is recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and ancient Egypt.

Cuneiform is a system of writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia c. 3500-3000 BCE. It is considered the most significant among the many cultural contributions of the Sumerians and the greatest among those of the Sumerian city of Uruk which advanced the writing of cuneiform c. 3200 BCE. The name comes from the Latin word cuneus for ‘wedge’ owing to the wedge-shaped style of writing. In cuneiform, a carefully cut writing implement known as a stylus is pressed into soft clay to produce wedge-like impressions that represent word-signs (pictographs) and, later, phonograms or ‘word-concepts’ (closer to a modern-day understanding of a ‘word’). All of the great Mesopotamian civilizations used cuneiform (the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Hatti, Hittites, Assyrians, Hurrians and others) until it was abandoned in favour of the alphabetic script at some point after 100 BCE.

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Beer o’clock, 3000 BCE (Image: New Scientist, Source: British Museum)

One tablet, excavated from the city of Uruk in modern-day Iraq, includes the symbols for “ration” (a human head eating from a bowl) and “beer” (a conical vessel): “Scattered around are scratches recording the amount of beer for a particular worker. It’s the world’s oldest known paycheck, implying that the concept of worker and employer was familiar five millennia ago.”

Archeologists link rise of civilisation and beer’s invention. Their argument is that Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads, by turning the grains into beer.

It seems that some things really don’t ever change.

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