One of the many historical things, that are extremely hard to reconstruct, are the non-visual forms of art. Sculptures or paintings can be preserved, and interpreted by modern sciences, but music for example is an different matter. Artifacts, described as musical instruments have been discovered before, in many parts of the world.
The currently oldest known musical instrument is the bone flute from the site Divje Babe, Slovenia, dated approximately to 43100 BC. Astonishingly preserved, compared to its age, but still broken, and unable to fulfill it’s original purpose. What it may sounded like in the time of its prime will forever remain an mystery. (but it’s still awesome and amazing to behold. If you are in Ljubljana, go check it out).
If we would look for some ancient instruments, that are still able to produce tones, we have to direct our focus a bit more to the east – to the Neolithic site of Jiahu, Henan province, China. 6 almost complete bone flutes, dating from 7000 – 5000 BC, were uncovered, and what is most interesting, one of those is still playable. Has been analyzed, and of course tested. (Check for the recordings HERE and HERE. Not everyday you have the chance to hear how an neolithic flute sounds like, am I right?).
But one question remains – what kind of music has been played? Hard to answer, am I right? Not many of those few-thousand years old people still walking around nowadays, so no one to ask.
But thanks to multi-scientific cooperations projects like The Flood could be completed. What is The Flood you ask? Nothing less then a musical album, sung exclusively in ancient Sumerian and Babylonian and played on the reconstruction of the oldest preserved string instrument – the Golden Lyre of Ur.
This unique, giant lyre, dating back 2550 BC, discovered in 1929 in Iraq, was reconstructed using the authentic adhesives, corresponding Sumerian wood of the same region, and the correct gold quality and thickness. From the view of an archaeologist, you could argue, that many of the original ancient techniques could have been lost, and the original lyre underwent an different process of creation, which we cannot mimic, but hey, those guys managed to do a really fine piece of work/art. And you can check out their website also.
And what about the tones, and the musical notation, you ask? Stone tablets, Sumerian, as well as Babylonian, I answer. For more info on them, you can check for example here.
But back to The Flood – this project is a collaboration between the singer and composer Stef Connor, instrument builder, and a harpist Andy Lowings and the producer Mark Harmer. By studying the ancient languages, the possible pronunciation, as well es Babylonian poems and other texts, combined with the music composed for the ancient lyre this haunting, and mesmerizing album was created. I ain’t saying it is an easy music for everyone, but just the idea, that something similar could have been played more then 4500 years ago is almost unbelievable.
You didn’t thought that we will let you go without some samples, did you? Here you go:
And if you would like to learn something more about the topic of ancient music, check out the research of Stef Connor in the journal Archaeoacoustics.