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5,000-year-old ‘document’ shows workers were paid in beer

Published Jun 28th, 2016 11:00PM EDT
5,000-year-old Mesopotamia Document Beer
Image: New Scientist

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Being paid in beer might be a dream for some people, but it was a reality for many workers in ancient times. And there’s living proof that beer was an accepted pay for labor: A 5,000-year-old document that recorded these transactions.

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Discovered in the city of Uruk, Iraq, the clay tablet above is a pay stub that contains records for beer due. “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 wrote in New Scientist.

As Ars Technica points out, Uruk was quite a place to live in ancient Mesopotamia. The city enjoyed impressive architectural marvels and people were trading goods for money. They even had tablets, like the one above, which they used to jot down thoughts in letters or keep track of beer owed, using a writing system called cuneiform.

The document above is an important finding because it proves the concept of employees and employers existed during those times. We have no idea why workers would agree to be paid in beer in the first place rather than money, but employers must have had large amounts of beer to afford to pay their employees in alcohol. And the irony doesn’t escape us: somewhere around Uruk, some clever person might have been paying people to make large quantities beer with – you guessed it – beer.

Paying people in alcohol isn’t a new practice and it’s not restricted to the Mesopotamian region. Some of the people who build the pyramids received some four to five liters of beer per day for their work, Ars says. With all that alcohol flowing, it’s amazing they did such a good job.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.