The Oldest Paystub in the World

November 7, 2023
Ian Zapolsky

Head of Product

Ian Zapolsky

The earliest known form of human writing dates back to 3,500 B.C.E. and was invented by the Sumerians, a civilization of farmers who lived along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq. Called cuneiform, which comes from the Latin word cuneus for "wedge," owing to the wedge-shaped style of the glyphs formed by pressing a cut reed into clay, this ancient written language appears to have been initially developed primarily out of a need to record and store information about trade and merchandise. The earliest cuneiform tablets that have been discovered almost exclusively contain economic data, recording the transfer of goods like grain and livestock exchanged between parties in various transactions.

While the Sumerians would go on to develop cuneiform and use it to record all types of information, including the earliest known work of literature The Epic of Gilgamesh, it is probably true that the oldest paystub in the world is etched onto the surface of one of these clay tablets. One possible contender for that title is the tablet pictured below.

According to the The British Museum, "This tablet is a record of the daily beer rations for workers. Beer here is represented by an upright jar with a pointed base. The symbol for rations is a human head eating from a porridge bowl. The round and semicircular impressions represent the measurements."

While we can't say for certain, this is likely one of the first iterations of a paystub.


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