J is for Journal

Journal entries are the backbone of accounting records. Despite the shift from quill pens to wi-fi chips, from clay tablets to vellum sheets to a blinking data entry screen, the accountants have always had to keep track.

Reducing Eggs Payable

Historians generally saw the ancient cuneiform notations as some of the earliest examples of writing–and accounting–in the world. The large-scale management of taxes, grain allotments, and army rations for the burgeoning Sumerian and Egyptian empires took a lot of tablets.

But local farmers had to keep track on their own, so researchers think that “primitive” bookkeeping, even based on barter, would have still included writing in a ledger. A neighbor might agree to take three chickens in exchange for a bag of seed when the harvest is completed. Or, suppose another neighbor made a sturdy cabinet for the kitchen in exchange for a year’s worth of eggs.

There would still need to be journal entries:

Bought one sack of seeds : Three chickens payable to Farmer Jones
Bought one kitchen cabinet: Year’s supply of eggs to Farmer Kozlowski

Then, one of the kids had to be sent over every day to Kozlowski with the day’s supply of eggs, while someone would make the daily journal entry. Because if something happened to the parties in the transaction mid-year, Mrs. Kozlowski would want to know that she was still owed 183 eggs. On your books, that would be sitting as eggs payable.

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