Concerning musical instruments, we are fortunate to have many terms, many visual representations and a handful of material remains from ancient Mesopotamia. However, a precise identification or matching between text and image (or material source) has remained elusive. The one clear exception is the lilissu, which can safely be identified as a kettledrum in the Seleucid period, due to the presence of text and image on the same physical object (Rashid 1984: 140). A further methodological problem lies in the fact that names of instruments change over time. However, although the identity of an instrument might change, it usually retains familial characteristics with its predecessor of the same name. For example, Anglo-Saxon hearpe, from which the word “harp” is derived, originally denoted a Teutonic lyre (De Vale 2008: V: 1). In the following, it is argued that, at least originally, Sumerian á-lá or Akkadian alû referred to a giant, double-membraned, cylindrical, struck drum (as opposed to a friction drum), as depicted on several third-millennium-BCE iconographic sources. The giant drum that is depicted on the Gudea and Urnamma Stelae (Rashid 1984: 70–73, Ill. 51–55) has been identified as the ala-drum by Galpin. Although I agree with Galpin, his reasoning was based on weak evidence, largely the descriptions of the instrument’s sound as “thunder” (Galpin 1937: 6–7). Galpin’s view has been followed by Sachs 1940: 74ff.; Hartmann 1960: 79–82; Spycket 1972: 179–180; Marcuse 1975: 131; Picken 1975: 103; Shehata 2006: 369; Gabbay 2007: 59 and Ziegler 2007: 74. The purpose of this article is to confirm this identification with a more detailed consideration of the sources, to show that the ala-instrument is, along with the lilissu, one of the few securely identifiable instruments in ancient Mesopotamia. Secondly, an attempt will be made to examine the instrument in its cultic role. My methodology is philological, iconographic and ethnographic. Examples of drum-making from various parts of the world are relevant, although no direct link is claimed. The giant cylindrical drum has died out in contemporary Iraq; thus comparisons with other musical cultures from around the world must be made. In making such comparisons, no historical links are implied.