The 10 Podcasts behind Old Bones

Image courtesy of Mohammad Metri

My podcast, Old Bones, draws on many different subjects to answer its fundamental question: what does it mean to be human?

That means that I’m the sort of guy who listens to a lot of different podcasts. It occurred to me that maybe people who like my podcast might also like the shows that have inspired me and helped me create Old Bones.

Here are my top ten favourite podcasts. In this list, there are science podcasts, philosophy podcasts, history podcasts and music podcasts. Some of them tell stories; others are interview-based while still, others are simply a couple of smart and entertaining friends having a natter.

10: In Our Time

What is it?

In Our Time is a venerable, BBC production. Melvyn Bragg has been running this program since 1998. He gathers three experts on a particular subject and quizzes them with all the charm and erudition you expect from a Radio 4 production.

Why should you listen?

In Our Time is a great podcast to kick off this list. Subjects range from biographies of physicists to debates about the 16th & 17th Century Scottish Levellers. All the knowledge comes from people who have spent their lives studying the subject. You get a great introduction to the subject while Melvyn Bragg keeps the pace moving and the academics on track. The podcast also comes with a bit of extra time where the panel flag whatever they think is missing

Where do I start?

They have just re-released an episode on the Gin Craze, which is fascinating.

9. The Dirt

What is it?

Amber and Anna are actual doctors. People who are qualified to talk about archaeology and anthropology (unlike myself, a mere Bachelor of Archaeology). They get together to discuss an eclectic mix of subjects.

Why should you listen?

Old Bones is very Euro-centric and will remain so for at least the first two or three seasons. The Dirt doesn’t have that problem. Anna and Amber cover subjects from human trafficking, the Iron Age middle east and even Prehistoric Japan with humour, sensitivity and academic rigour. It also comes from the Archaeology Podcast Network, who create some other great shows.

Where do I start?

Learn about Hasanlu, a middle-eastern city ravaged by fire and sword in the Iron Age. Not only do they discuss a marvellous archaeological site, but they also flag how modern-day politics still infect academic study.

8. Ologies

Quite simply, this the best independent science podcast out there.

What is it?

Alie Ward interviews a different ‘ologist’ every episode. That means she can cover pretty much every corner of academia. If it can be studied Alie can and probably has created an episode about it.

Why should I listen?

For Alie. She is out and out the best podcast host on this entire list. In a single episode, she can make you laugh out loud, sigh at something adorable and leave you feeling like your brain is expanding in the best way.

Alie’s personality shines through and infects her guests, bringing out their best and helping the listener understand the joys, the struggles and the reality of whatever subject under discussion.

Where do I start?

Flick through the list. You’ll find an episode that grabs your attention. Since I like history and archaeology, I’ve got to recommend you learn about Ancient Rome with Darius Arya.

7. Disgraceland

What is it?

Disgraceland takes everything good about the True Crime genre of podcasting and applies it to Rock Stars.

Why should I listen?

Who doesn’t love to hear stories about rock stars misbehaving? With Disgraceland, you discover uncomfortable truths about Sam Cooke, get a peek behind the curtain of depravity that was the Rolling Stones tour bus and find out what it was that drove Jay-Z to become a billionaire.

Disgraceland is, quite simply, one of the best story-driven podcasts out there and has been a significant influence on how I craft my narratives and audio-experience.

Where do I start?

Who doesn’t love Amy Winehouse? The story behind her tragic, too-early demise leaves you angry with the world and newly enamoured with Camden’s princess.

Rock and Roller.

6. The Anthropocene Reviewed

I’ll be honest with you; my dream is for Old Bones to become an accepted part of nerdfighteria. John Green, for me, remains the undisputed king of the internet.

What is it?

John Green, best-selling author and youtube star, takes different elements of our human world and rates them on a 5-star scale.

Why should I listen?

The Anthropocene Reviewed is classic John Green. He uses a somewhat goofy premise as an excuse to dive deeply into the world around us. It’s incredible how much you can learn about the human experience from Canada geese or Kentucky Blue Grass.

Where do I start?

Well, why not with cave paintings? John Green takes a stab at prehistoric art with an episode on Lascaux, which also features a discussion of the Taco Bell breakfast menu.

5. Hardcore History

If Alie Ward of Ologies is the best podcast host on this list, her only real challenger is Dan Carlin.

What is it?

Exactly as it says on the tin: a hardcore discussion of history. Episodes are routinely 3 hours plus in length. Every season is essentially an audiobook on a particular topic. If you like history and podcasts but don’t love Hardcore History, then you’re lying about something.

Why should I listen?

There are two reasons to listen to Hardcore History: the level of detail and Dan’s delivery. He doesn’t merely recount what happened in the past. No, instead, Dan Carlin works very hard to put you in the shoes of the people who make up his stories. By choosing topics about extreme human experiences like Far East theatre of World War II, or the Western Front during WWI, Dan explores what life is like about the absolute limit of human existence.

Where do I start?

Dan quite rightly puts a lot of his episodes behind a paywall. However, his series ‘Blueprint for Armageddon’ about the Western Front during WWI changed how I thought about the First World War, and I think it might change your views too.

4. The British History Podcast

What is it?

The British History Podcast (BHP) takes a… granular journey through British history. Especially once the BHP hits the Late Antiquity / Early Medieval period, this podcast aims to guide you through every lump and bump of British history.

Why should I listen?

Unlike many independent history podcasts, the BHP combines excellent production values with an ability to make enjoyable an essentially year-by-year summary of what happened in Britain. If most history podcasts are high-level introductions, the BHP is aiming to do something far more comprehensive. I’ve been listening quite religiously for over a year and still haven’t caught up with every episode.

All that said, that doesn’t mean the BHP is dull. The host is engaging and witty. He combines a lawyers ability to notice important detail with a nerd’s enthusiasm and self-deprecating sense of humour that is rarely grating. From me, at least, that is high praise indeed.

Where do I start?

You’ve got to begin with episode one, right? I think so; the start is a very good place to begin.

3. Philosophize This!

What is it?

I am sorry to the History of Philosophy (Without Any Gaps), which does for philosophy what the BHP does for British History. The History of Philosophy almost made it onto this list but unfortunately the title of ‘Best Philosophy Podcast’ only has one real winner: Philosophize This!

Philosophize This! doesn’t just tell you about the history of philosophers, it also teaches you to think and poses questions that improve your understanding of the mental skill required by philosophy. If you want to know more about the people who shaped the way we see the world, this is the podcast for you.

Why should I listen?

Three things make Philosophize This! excellent. The first is the content. The podcast takes a chronological approach to philosophy, which appeals to fans of history and contextualizes each philosopher by placing them in line with the philosophical debates raging during their lifetime.

Secondly, as I mentioned, is that this podcast is not a passive listen. You don’t leave with a head full of facts. No, Philosophize This! gives you a question and proposes some answers, the rest is up to you.

Finally, and this is vital for all of these heavier podcasts, is the host. Stephen West keeps everything light and breezy. By taking a warm, friendly and often funny approach Stephen West frames complex subjects in a way that is relevant to his listeners.

Where do I start?

All philosophers are simply footnotes to Plato, so start with the man, the myth, the legend.

Or start right at the beginning when philosophy was bizarre.

2. Martyrmade

What is it?

Martyrmade takes many ques from Hardcore History and applies much of what makes Dan Carlin great to smaller niches. Darryl Cooper is currently exploring how something like the Jonestown Massacre could ever take place. For everyone who has read a Wikipedia page or textbook and thought ‘that’s cool but why did people act like that?’ then this show is for you.

Why should I listen?

Is Martyrmade a perfect podcast? No. It doesn’t have a regular release schedule, the artwork is meh and the audio quality is a little inconsistent. Everything else though: the delivery, the subject matter, the humanity of the show, it is all flawless.

Where do I start?

Many podcasts have changed my life, but none as powerfully as Martyrmade’s opening season on the origins of the Palestine-Israeli conflict.

Start on episode one and be blown away.

1. Revolutions

What is it?

The History of Rome is the best history podcast ever, fact. In Revolutions, Mike Duncan takes everything that made his first podcast brilliant and improves on every element.

However, instead of taking one vast narrative, Revolutions takes a series of well, revolutions, and explores their roots, their sparks and their consequences. By continuously comparing and contrasting 300 years of uprisings across the globe, Mike Duncan reveals the dangers of inequality, complacency and above all, what happens when you don’t learn the lessons of the past.

Why should I listen?

Mike Duncan is one of the greats. The History of Rome is the first podcast with which I fell in love. I don’t have a criticism of this show: the audio quality is excellent. Mike Duncan is scholarly without being dull. The research is second to none, and the subject matter is brilliant.

Where do I start?

Begin with the greatest revolution of all time: the French Revolution. This series has it all: vapid rulers in King Louis & Marie Antoinette, visionaries like Lafayette and the revolutionary cannibals of Napoleon and Robespierre.

Bonus: Old Bones

I’m not expecting every person who reads this to have listened to what I create, so forgive me for a moment of self-promotion.

What is it?

Old Bones explores the past one skeleton at a time. Every episode takes a burial, cremation or abandoned bog body and uses that as a jumping-off point to ask two questions: in what kind world did that person live and what does that tell us about our shared human experience?

Why should I listen?

Old Bones is the sum of every podcast listed here and many more besides. I aim to combine the humanity of the Anthropocene Reviewed, Hardcore History and Martyrmade with the research of Revolutions, In Our Time and the British History Podcast. All of that gets bundled into a chimeric style stolen from Disgraceland, Ologies and Philosophize This!

The result is, I hope, a podcast which is fundamentally enjoyable while helping you understand a little more about what it means to be human. Also, most archaeological podcasts are just rubbish, and I don’t think Old Bones is all that bad.

Where do I start?

The episode which captures everything that Old Bones is about is our first episode on the Tomb of the Eagles, on the tiny frigid island of Orkney.

While you listen, check out our website or get in touch with me for comments, advice and feedback at oldbonespodcast@gmail.com.

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Producers & presenter of Old Bones Podcast.

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Andrew Earnshaw

Andrew Earnshaw

Producers & presenter of Old Bones Podcast.

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