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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Sunday Nov 28, 2021

(Re-recorded as of June 30, 2022)
Guests: Kelsey, Michaela, Annika
First, Enki, patron god of Eridu, creates the world, invents agriculture, blesses foreign lands, and produces the Tigris and the Euphrates as part of an extremely convoluted and mildly unsettling metaphor.
Then, we visit Eridu, the first city in Sumerian legendary history, and possibly the oldest continuously occupied settlement when the first historical texts were written. What can it tell us about life during the Ubaid?
Then, we follow the extended household (which first developed during the Pottery Neolithic in the north) as its Ubaid incarnation spreads across the Near East. Also, we look at the relationship between women and these new social institutions.
Then, we visit one of the most famous cities in Mesopotamia in its infancy. Ur, home to Enheduanna and Shulgi and the biblical Abraham, has a long history ahead of it, and its earliest levels date to the Ubaid. We also visit the nearby site of the eponymous al-'Ubaid.
Then, a look at domestic life during the Ubaid. Also, just for fun, head-shaping!
Then, we tackle the "Sumerian question": what can we know about the language(s) spoken in the alluvium over a millennium before the development of written language? (In other words, "were they Sumerians?") Along the way, we raise a few other questions: how would we know if it replaced other, earlier languages? How much of a language's history appears in its vocabulary? Can there even be such thing as a proto-Sumerian language unaffected by contact with any other language?
Finally, Inanna confronts Enki about ignoring her in his cosmic plan, so he grants her the heaping up of human heads like piles of dust, among other blessings. How does she feel about that? We actually won't find out!
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Works cited

Friday Dec 03, 2021

(Formerly episode 16, partially re-recorded as of June 30, 2022)
Guest: Kelten
First, one of the common soldiers at Troy tells Agamemnon what everyone else is thinking and Odysseus threatens to smack him upside the head.
Then, we tour Tell Abada (on the far northeastern edge of the Ubaid world), with interesting evidence of political centralization around 5000 BCE.
Then, we talk about increasing social & economic complexity in the late 4000s & early 3000s BCE. What makes cereals more conducive to state formation than other Neolithic crops (like lentils)?
Then, we look at the administrative centers in Ubaid towns like Eridu, both as socio-political institutions and as architectural monuments. At this point, they're in the process of transforming from the domestic houses of prominent families to the sprawling temple bureaucracies which dominate the early history of Mesopotamia.
Then, we visit one of the other most famous cities in Mesopotamia. Unug, alias Uruk, alias Erech, alias Warka, home to Gilgamesh and Inanna and the biblical Nimrod, will be the world's largest city throughout the late 4th millennium BCE, during which time humanity will invent bronze, the state, and the written word.
Then, we take one last look at Ubaid society. How does the concept of chiefdom apply to the Ubaid alluvium?
Finally, Odysseus & Thersites resolve their dispute like civilized men!
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Works cited

Thursday Jan 13, 2022

(Formerly episode 13, partially re-recorded as of June 30, 2022)
Guests: Annika, Kelsey
First, we start with the Sumerian flood story (which later inspired the flood stories in the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh), pieced together from fragmentary tablets. What does this have to do with the Arabian Neolithic?
Then, we meet the shepherds & fishers of the Arabian Neolithic during the Holocene Humid Period, living amidst forests, grasslands, rivers, and inland lakes large enough to support herds of hippopotami. 
Then, we visit Dosariyah, a seasonal campsite, oyster processing center on the modern Saudi Arabian coast, and trade outpost. Did they have any boat-related ideas about the afterlife in common with an Ubaid site in northern Syria?
Then, we look at the sea trade between the Ubaid alluvium and the Persian gulf. What can pottery tell us about the role of feasting in bringing together Mesopotamian sailors and Arabian shepherds?
Then, we visit as-Sabiyah on the Kuwaiti coast, a settlement with intensive trade links with the alluvium and possibly an "ethnically Ubaid" population. What would that mean? Can we know for sure?
Finally, the Sumerian goddess Nanshe builds a home for her fish. Who's invited to the housewarming party? Which species of fish isn't allowed as a temple offering? The answer probably won't surprise you!
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Works cited

Sunday Jan 23, 2022

(Formerly episode 14)
Guests: Kelsey, Kelten
First, we meet the moon god Nanna-Suen (alias Sin, alias Ashimbabbar), as he prepares to journey from Ur upriver to the city of his father Enlil.
Then, a brief look at the Halaf culture (early-mid 5000s BCE) in late Neolithic upper Mesopotamia, which managed to avoid social hierarchy and wealth inequality millennia after developing agriculture and herding. How did they do it?
Then, the southern Ubaid culture reaches the north. In just a few centuries (ca 5300-4500 BCE), the southerners managed to export not just their material culture (tools, pottery, building styles, etc) but also an economy centered on the large households of wealthy and well-connected families, which coordinated not only grain storage and redistribution but also manual labor projects, long-distance trade, and religious activity. How did they do it?
Then, a visit to our new friends at Tepe Gawra, a town in northern Iraq occupied more or less continuously from the Halaf period well into the Bronze Age. We'll be back! (Correction: Level 19 is Gawra's oldest Ubaid level. Level 20, dating to the Halaf, is the earliest occupation at Gawra). How did northerners navigate different markers of identity in the face of cultural transformation? What can stamp seals tell us about the growing power of one particular household and/or the breed of dogs at Gawra?
We wrap up with a tour of the Post-Ubaid north (ca 4500-3800 BCE). Even as southern influence subsided, northern chiefs appear to have enjoyed their newfound power, at least enough to find new and interesting ways to turn other people's labor into jewelry for their children.
Then, we return to Tepe Gawra until the beginning of the Uruk period. What's a town so small doing with all this treasure? And why is so much of it buried with children?
Finally, Enlil's little fellow who eats sweet cakes arrives at his father's dinner table to exchange porcupines, long-tailed bush rats, turtles, and various birds and fishes for bread, beer, sweet cake, syrup, crescent cake, and clear water. May Lord Ashimbabbar make you be born for seven days!
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Works cited

Saturday Feb 26, 2022

(Formerly episode 15)
Guest co-host: Kelsey
First, Inanna sets her mind to capturing the House of Heaven (that is, the E-anna) from her father, the sky-god An, after including it on her wedding registry proved too subtle of a request.
Then, we visit Susiana, the alluvial plain just east of the Ubaid homeland, just in time to see the foundation of Susa (modern Shush— it's had the same name for five millennia) and its first heyday (ca 4200-4000 BCE). They built a monumental platform eighty meters square and ten meters tall, probably the largest artificial structure in the world at the time. 
Then, we talk about Susa's social organization, and one possibility for an intermediate stage between egalitarian Neolithic villages and theocratic Bronze Age monarchies. 
Then, they burn their towering achievement twice, obliterating any evidence of a temple that may have stood on top. Was it intentional? Is it relevant that Chogha Mish, the center Susa was built to replace, was also destroyed by a fire?
Finally, the thrilling conclusion of Inanna's quest to capture the E-anna from An. Bad day to be a scorpion!
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Works cited

Wednesday Mar 09, 2022

Guest: Annika
First, Antigone gets caught burying her brother, a foolish judge arraigns her folly, and we wonder whether the good might actually desire a like portion with the evil.
Then, we visit Tell Brak in northeastern Syria (most famous for its "eye idols"), as it becomes southwest Asia's first city and the world's largest settlement (130 hectares, maybe as many as 24,000 people) in the early 4th millennium BCE. What did climate have to do with its sudden rise and gradual decline? 
More relevantly, what did climate and the city's gradual decline have to do with the dozens of disarticulated corpses and skulls defleshed with tools made from human bone in several mass graves around town?
Then: Gilgamesh grieves for Enkidu, and we talk about one very specific lion-based metaphor common to both the Iliad and the Epic of Gilgamesh (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that these elements are spread out across two different scenes in the Iliad).
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Works cited

Thursday Mar 17, 2022

Guests: Kirra, Jojo
First, Ensuhkeshdanna, the haughty lord of faraway Aratta, demands the submission of our hero Enmerkar, the wise king of noble Unug. When Enmerkar refuses to so debase himself, the lord of Aratta plots a campaign of economic sabotage by means of dark sorcery.
Then, an introduction to the Uruk expansion (or the Uruk phenomenon), a process of intensive trade, migration, and cultural interaction spanning most of the Near East for most of the 4th millennium BCE. This episode focuses on the Middle Uruk period (3800-3400 BCE).
Then, we return to Susiana, in southwestern Iran, to pick up right after the end of the Susa 1 period (in episode 16). A population explosion accompanies the introduction of Uruk-style material culture (that is, similar to the culture of southern Mesopotamia). We tour the small rural village of Shafarabad and the revitalized city of Susa. What can we know about Susiana's relationship to the Mesopotamian alluvium during this period?
Then, we return to Tell Brak in northeastern Syria as it, too, is incorporated into the Middle Uruk economy. The climate is drying and the city is shrinking, but they do manage to build a pretty cool temple!
Then, a handful of other sites incorporated into the Uruk world: Tell Hamoukar (near Brak), Tepe Gawra (from episode 15), and Nineveh (more famous as the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire).
Then, we visit Hacınebi in southeastern Anatolia, one of several pre-existing large towns with their own history of administrative record-keeping subsumed within the Uruk trade network.
Finally: wizard fights are the continuation of diplomacy by other means!
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Works cited

Sunday Mar 27, 2022

Guest: Kelten
First: Our hero Enmerkar, grandson of the sun-god Utu, demands tribute (in the form of labor and precious minerals) from the anonymous lord of faraway Aratta, with the blessing of his lover (and Utu's sister), the goddess Inanna.
Then, we look at the Late Uruk period in Iran, starting with Susa and its role in the invention of writing (and possibly in the colonization of the Iranian highlands). Chogha Mish was a centrally planned city (like Habuba Kabira, next episode), and Godin Tepe and Tepe Sialk were home to Uruk outposts. Was this colonization? Or something else entirely?
Then, after a quick history of Egypt up to the mid-3000s BCE, we look at Mesopotamian and Iranian influences on Egypt's Naqada period, when it acquired many of the characteristic features of later pharaonic society.
Finally, we meet the eponymous lord in his highland fastness of Aratta, who bets the entire proverbial farm on his contest with Enmerkar. As the proverb goes: he who acknowledges a contest can be the outright winner, like the bull which acknowledges the bull at its side!
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Works cited

Monday Apr 18, 2022

Guest: Kelten
First: the lord of Aratta devises a series of challenges to demonstrate his superiority over our hero Enmerkar, the august king of Unug, who casually invents written language two-thirds of the way through the story. Can he outsmart his nemesis in the mountains? Or, at the very least, ignore his specifications and send him something else entirely?
Then, we continue our survey of the Uruk expansion: the Persian Gulf, the Habuba Kabira metropolitan area, and Hassek Höyük.
Then, we finish with Arslantepe, a native Anatolian site in close contact with the Uruk exchange network. What can this site tell us about endogenous social complexity outside the influence of southern Mesopotamian city-states?
Then: the Uruk colonial network collapses! Was it climate change? Environmental degradation? The declining rate of profit? Foreign invasion? Internal political instability? All of the above? Let's find out!
Finally, we finish up the story of Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta. Inanna blesses the two kingdoms and, as you should've guessed by now, the gods invent new types of manual labor for humans to perform for them.
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Wednesday Apr 20, 2022

Guest: Sheila
First, strong Copper casts his legitimate insults, insults of a miserable dog, against Silver. In my delusional hubris, I've arbitrarily pieced this particular debate text together from disparate fragments and granted it unnatural life beyond death via galvanic abominations beyond the comprehension of its original creator. As usual, I'm using the ETCSL translation.
Then, we track the development of copper metallurgy in the Near East, stretching from the early Neolithic to the Uruk and beyond. Sheila, actual chemistry expert, helps us understand the reactions occurring inside these Chalcolithic crucibles.
Then, a look at specific metals: copper, silver, gold, lead, and iron— all available to smiths at the very beginning of the so-called Bronze Age.
Speaking of which, why do we call it that anyway? Now that this podcast about the Bronze Age has finally reached the beginning of the story, it's worth explaining what exactly the familiar Stone Age / Bronze Age / Iron Age trichotomy means for our understanding of world history. 
Then, we learn about arsenical bronze, the first intentional copper alloy to spread across the Near East. This, predictably, segues into an examination of the various health effects of these various metals on the people working with them. I learned something new about some familiar gods, and now you will too!
Finally, the conclusion (such as it is) to Copper's debate with Silver. Silver puts up a valiant defense, given that the constraints of the genre preordained his failure. Father Enlil be praised!
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Works cited

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