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5,000-year-old tablet shows Mesopotamian workers paid in beer

A 5,000-year-old cuneiform tablet from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk depicts the distribution of beer to workers as part of their daily rations. (Flickr)

Beer. It’s not the most ideal payment to take home in exchange for a day’s work: it might spill, it could get warm, it might get polluted with dirt, dust and whatever insects are drawn to the sweet nectar while on the road, or you might not make it home at all.

But employers in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk, located in modern-day Iraq, certainly knew how to treat their workers to a good time.

A roughly 5,000-year-old cuneiform stone tablet, in possession of the British Museum in London, shows how workers were paid their daily rations in liquid gold.

According to the New Scientist the tablet is the world’s oldest paycheck.

“On one tablet excavated from (Uruk) we can see a human head eating from a bowl, meaning ‘ration,' and a conical vessel, meaning ‘beer,’” writes the New Scientist’s Alison George.

“Scattered around are scratches recording the amount of beer for a particular worker.”

The artifact’s entry on the British Museum’s page on Google Arts & Culture indicates that the tablet was made around 3100 to 3000 BC.

It adds that beer was the most popular beverage in Mesopotamia because it was “safer” and “maybe tastier than water.” (Writer’s note: there’s no debate about the second part.)

But this isn’t the only case in history of workers receiving beer for their daily responsibilities.  In ancient Egypt, workers who undertook the grueling task of building the received a “daily ration of four to five litres.

There are also records of poet and the “Father of English literature” Geoffrey Chaucher receiving a yearly salary of 252 gallons of wine from Richard II.

And this practice isn’t exclusive to ancient history. There is a trend of tech companies keeping refrigerators stocked with cold brews and letting them imbibe at the office.

So drink up, fellow proletariats!

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