The Drumbeat Forever After

A podcast focusing on the Bronze Age in the Near East, from the development of agriculture during the Neolithic to the collapse of the Late Bronze Age world system at the end of the second millennium BCE and everything in between. Every episode also includes a look at a particular myth or ancient text. Episodes 1, 17, and 31 are good places to start.

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Monday Jan 23, 2023

I interviewed Karrar Sabah Al Ramahi, PhD student at Baghdad University, about his research on the city of Eridu! Furqan Salam helped with the translation.
We talk about its earliest settlement during the Ubaid period, its prominence as a temple town, the building projects of the kings of Ur, and the reason for its primacy in the Sumerian King List.
Thanks to Karrar & Furqan for the interview!
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Works cited

Friday Dec 23, 2022

Guest: Lily
First: the world's oldest known wisdom literature, in the form of a series of proverbs delivered from the eponymous Shuruppak (king of Shuruppak) to his son Zi-ud-sura (alias Utnapishtim, the Noah figure from the Sumerian flood myth). Only insults and stupid speaking receive the attention of the Land!
Then we visit the city of Shuruppak, in central Sumer. After a quick look at its early administration during the Jemdet Nasr and "Archaic" periods, we introduce the Fara period (roughly 2600-2450 BCE), a phase in the development of cuneiform writing that more or less corresponds to the Early Dynastic IIIA period. Most importantly, we have literature now! 
Then, we look at Shuruppak's place in the world, including the copious evidence for intensive trade with the broader region. What was its relation to the "city league"? Was it part of the kingdom of Kish? Who destroyed Shuruppak, and why?
Then: more proverbs from Shuruppak of Shuruppak. You should not beat a farmer's son; he has constructed your embankments and ditches!
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Works cited

Friday Dec 09, 2022

Guest: Annika
First, a classic sitcom setup: Ningishzida plans to sail a boat to hell with his friend (an ill-intentioned demon), but his sister Ama-shilama wants to tag along!
Then, we visit the construction site of Mari, a city built from scratch in the middle of nowhere around 2900 BCE, along with 150 km (90 mi) of canals to connect it to both the Euphrates and the Khabur river. You can do the math: the perfectly circular outer walls, with a diameter of 1.9 km, enclose an area of about 280 hectares! (The inner walls enclose about 130 ha.) Who built it? Who built Thebes of the seven gates? So many questions!
Then, we head west to the lower Diyala river, to see the temples in Tutub and the statuary in Eshnunna. What can famous art tell us about the chronology of the late early Early Dynastic period?
Also, skipping forward in time: you're never going to guess where this textile worker who died young under unclear circumstances got her pendant from.
Finally: the text is broken, but Ningishzida receives a blessing, possibly from Ereshkigal, the underworld goddess who fell in love with Nergal back in episode 6.
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Works cited

Saturday Dec 03, 2022

(Re-recorded as of December 3, 2022)
Guest: Victoria
First: Having insulted Ereshkigal (queen of the Sumerian underworld) by offending her messenger's honor at a dinner party in heaven, Nergal (god of war, plague, and death) has to travel down to the underworld to apologize to her in person. Will he be able to restrain his overweening libido?
Then, we tour Çatalhöyük (in modern south-central Turkey), one of the biggest and densest communities in the world during the late 6,000s BCE. What can their patterns of burial tell us about their social organization? What did this dense concentration of people portend for public health? What do the few murals with photographic documentation imply about the history of volcanic eruptions in the region?
Then, the adoption and spread of the Neolithic lifestyle had a variety of effects on the human body, including a few useful adaptations, like lactase persistence. However, the combination of a grain-based diet, daily interaction with new species of livestock, and the growth of large, dense settlements also exposed people to countless new (or newly common) diseases: anemia, brucellosis, malaria, tooth decay, and more!
Then, we look at the evidence for warfare during the 8.2-kiloyear climatic event, which affected societies across the Near East during the late 7th millennium BCE.
Then, we visit a singular burial installation in southeastern Anatolia: a death pit containing the remains of about three dozen people and several dogs, not to mention the bones of the animals eaten for their funerary feast. What were they doing with all these bones?
Finally: even though their relationship seems unsalvageable by the end of the second act, Nergal & Ereshkigal find a way to patch up their issues by the middle of the third act!
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Works cited

Thursday Nov 10, 2022

Guests: Kelten, James
First, Gilgamesh ignores the branch of the government standing between him and a unilateral declaration of war on King Aga of Kish, the mightiest kingdom in the Mesopotamian alluvium at the time. Infrastructure is boring, kings are always right, and war is always glorious!
Then, we look at the city of Kish during the Archaic period (2900-2600 BCE), which was apparently the seat of a powerful kingdom controlling much more territory than any other Sumerian city-state at the time.
Then, we look at the oldest historical document from Mesopotamia, and our only historical document from this period of Kish's history. The "Prisoner plaque" totals 36,000 prisoners of war taken from at least 25 towns and villages during a series of military campaigns. Zababa is the god of manhood!
Then, a look at the institution of the kingship of Kish (which, as you may know, long outlasted the kingdom of Kish as such). After revisiting the Sumerian King List, we meet two of our best candidates for the first kings to appear in both the Sumerian legendary tradition and the historical record: Enmebaragesi and his son Aga (or Akka), both of whom appear in this episode's Gilgamesh story.
Speaking of which, because this is a Sumerian epic poem, it turns out that kings are always right and war is always glorious (for our heroes)! Gilgamesh captures his rival Aga, son of Enmebaragesi, and refers to a lost historical tradition of past interaction between Unug and Kish in deciding how to treat his prisoner.
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Works cited

Saturday Oct 15, 2022

Guest: James
First: To punish Gilgamesh, Inanna sends the massive Bull of Heaven to ravage Unug. But, as it destroys farmland and drinks the rivers dry, Gilgamesh sits idle, drinking beer and listening to music!
Then, we visit Ur during the Archaic period (2900-2600 BCE) and finally take a look at the first certainly Sumerian writing. Administrative texts record a complex economy centered on the temple of the moon god Nanna, school tablets give us a look at scribal education, and the first lists of deities give us a faint glimpse of early Sumerian religion (although most of the gods listed are obscure).
Also: was Ur part of a league of Sumerian cities? Scattered evidence from the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE points to a confederation of city-states in southern Sumer (Ur, Unug, Nippur, Larsa, etc), who may have allied with each other to counterbalance the power of Kish (a large kingdom in the northern alluvium and our destination next episode!).
Finally, Gilgamesh faces off against the Bull of Heaven! We discuss the logistics of animal sacrifice and what may be a Sumerian euphemism describing Gilgamesh slapping Inanna with a wet bull pizzle.
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Works cited

Thursday Sep 22, 2022

Guest: Lily
First, we finally meet Gilgamesh! Cherished in Unug, heroic bearer of a scepter of wide-ranging power, noble glory of the gods, angry bull standing ready for a fight, etc. We read one of two Sumerian poems dealing with Gilgamesh's conquest of the remote Mountains of Cedar-felling and his fight against the mighty Ḫuwawa, the demigod who rules the mountains at the edge of the world!
Then: an introduction to the Early Dynastic period (2900-late 2300s BCE) in Sumer. We take a first look at the geography of the 3rd-millennium Mesopotamian alluvium; the nature of temples, palaces, and city-states; the emergence of silver as money; the broader world surrounding Sumer; and language and identity in Mesopotamia.
Then, a look at the Sumerian King List, a writing exercise (and an ideological tapestry of various folklore traditions) which often gets mistaken for an objective historical document. What can it tell us about the Early Dynastic period?
Then, a look at our evidence for a historical King Gilgamesh of archaic Unug (2900-2600 BCE?). What does a king have to do in the 28th century BCE to be worshipped as a god by the 26th century?
Then, we read the rest of this version of the Ḫuwawa story. The half-divine Gilgamesh reifies his power over both humans & the natural world by breaking an oath between gentlemen, on the one hand, and domesticating a demigod and exploiting his homeland for raw resources, on the other. Warrior, you lied!
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Works cited

Thursday Sep 01, 2022

It's the podcast's first interview!
I talk to Malath Feadha and Dr. Jaafar Jotheri, two Iraqi archaeologists studying ancient Mesopotamia at Al-Qadisiyah University, about the relationship between the early inhabitants of the alluvium (in southern Iraq) and the rivers and wetlands that shaped their landscape.
We talk about the history of irrigation, from a few Ubaid households digging small canals from gaps in the natural levees (in the 5000s BCE) to Sumerian city-states levying armies of manual laborers to incorporate the entire alluvium into a single irrigation network (in the 2000s).
We also talk about a recent paper* they coauthored, a geoarchaeological analysis of ancient human movement through the alluvial wetlands. Both boats and domestic herds of water buffalo stirred up the sediment on the river floor over time, leaving tracks still visible in the modern desert landscape. What can these tell us about daily life in early southern Mesopotamia?
Follow Malath and Grandchildren of the Sumerians on Twitter! 
*Jaafar Jotheri, Michelle de Gruchy, Rola Almaliki, & Malath Feadha. "Remote Sensing the Archaeological Traces of Boat Movement in the Marshes of Southern Mesopotamia" Remote Sensing, 2019, 11, 2474.
Also: look forward to the upcoming sequel, coauthored by our guests (et al), to be published in Sustainability: "Landscape archaeology of Southern Mesopotamia: identifying features in the dried marshes."
Questions? Feedback? Email us at
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Works cited

Monday Jul 18, 2022

New update, as of July 18:
Episode 17 is entirely new, and episodes 18-20 are mostly new.
I've rearranged the order of episodes 22-26, and I've re-recorded audio for episodes 23-26 that I haven't edited yet. 
Thanks for your patience! Like I mentioned, I have about 22 episodes written on Early Dynastic Sumer (2900-2350 BCE), of which I've recorded 4 so far.
Stay tuned for more content!

Friday Jun 24, 2022

Guest: Kelten
First: Anzu, the mythical bird guarding the mountains at the edge of the world, comes home to find that Lugalbanda has treated his beloved chick with the utmost generosity. In return, he makes several attempts to grant Lugalbanda his destiny.
Then, we continue the history of the temples at the center of the city-states in southern Mesopotamia from 3100-2900 BCE, mostly based on tablets from Unug and the northern site of Jemdet Nasr. What were they for? Who administered them? Whose work kept them running?
Then, we look at language around the turn of the 3rd millennium, starting with a quick look at the evolution of writing in Iran and focusing on the "Sumerian question". We can read these texts, but can we be sure of the language they were written in? Can we even be sure they were meant to represent grammatical language as such?
Then, Lugalbanda rejoins the soldiers who left him for dead in a mountain cave! Can he help Enmerkar win Unug's war against Aratta?
Questions? Feedback? Email us at
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Works cited

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