A horn made from a seashell more than 17,000 years ago has produced a melody for the first time in millennia, an ancient instrument being used again for its intended purpose.
Archaeologists originally found the seashell in 1931 in a French cave that had preserved prehistoric wall paintings. They speculated that the cave’s past inhabitants had used the shell as a ceremonial bowl for shared drinks, and that the hole in its top was simply accidental damage. Later, researchers came to a different conclusion – in fact, this sink was created to play music.
Moreover, the archaeologists invited a musician to play a simple three-note melody that the ancient shell was capable of playing. In terms of tones, it is similar to modern C, D, and C-sharp.
This horn is not the oldest known musical instrument. Some flutes made from bird bones and mammoth tusks are about 40,000 years old. Still, the ancient shell is a unique find. The pointed end of the shell was deliberately opened, and scientists found remnants of a brown substance, which they thought might have been the resin or wax used to attach the mouthpiece. A scan of the inside of the piece showed that two holes had been drilled in places that allowed the tube to pass straight down from the mouthpiece to the inside.
The results are published in Science Advances.