Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

What brand beer did Gilgamesh drink?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-26

Those who’ve hit one of my most popular posts, (a Gilgamesh ultra-short version and review) might find it interesting that "brand names" started appearing on bottles at the same time.

"Were Mesopotamians the first brand-addicts?" (New Scientist 2008-04-25) points to David Wengrow’s Prehistories of Commodity Branding a.k.a. DOI: 10.1086/523676.

Wengrow’s papers are discoverable via Google Scholar.  He’s heavily into Mesopatamia and the Urban revolution: you can browse his The Archaeology of Ancient Egypt: Social Transformations in North-East Africa 10000BC to 2650BC about the emergence of farming economies and dynastic states at Google Books for free, here.

Here is the abstract – the paper is US$10

Commodity branding has been characterized as the distinguishing cultural move of late capitalism and is widely viewed as a historically distinctive feature of the modern global economy. The brand’s rise to prominence following the Industrial Revolution and the attendant shift of corporate enterprise towards the dissemination of image-based products have been further cited as contributing to the erosion of older forms of identity such as those based on kinship and class. However, comparisons between recent forms of branding and much earlier modes of commodity marking associated with the Urban Revolution of the fourth millennium BC suggest that systems of branding address a paradox common to all economies of scale and are therefore likely to arise (and to have arisen) under a wide range of ideological and institutional conditions, including those of sacred hierarchies and stratified states. An examination of the material and cognitive properties of sealing practices and the changing functions of seals in their transition from personal amulets to a means of labeling mass-produced goods helps to unpack the interlocking (pre)histories of quality control, authenticity, and ownership that make up the modern brand.

The NS article specifically mention’s Gilgamesh’s town: Uruk, and you can see a photo of a bottle-stopper here.

Ancient Mesopotamian Branded Bottle-Stopper

Ancient Mesopotamian Branded Bottle-Stopper

(For those unfamiliar with DOI numbers, they let you find a paper without knowing the journal, and survives even if the link moves: go to, type the DOI – in this case 10.1086/523676 – into the search box, and voila! no long titles, weird journal names… much more convenient!)


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