Oldest written melody in history

January 17, 2011

There is the oldest known animated cartoon, 5,200 years old.  There is the oldest known musical instrument, between 7,000 and 9,000 years old.

Now, also, here is the oldest known written melody, too – from 1400 BCE.

Are we to assume that for at least 5,000 years, music was all improvised?  Would that make jazz the oldest musical form?

In the YouTube comments, there is what may be oldest known copyright dispute, too.

Michael Levy performs on the lyre in the video, and he’s the authority on ancient music who put the thing together.  His explanation and website offer a lot more that teachers of world history might use to bring these ancient arts to life.  He explained at YouTube:

This unique video, features my arrangement of the 3400 year old “Hurrian Hymn no.6″, which was discovered in Ugarit ,ancient northern Canaan (now modern Syria) in the early 1950s, and was preserved for 3400 years on a clay tablet, written in the Cuneiform text of the ancient Hurrian language – it is THE oldest written song yet known! Respect, to the amazing ancient culture of Syria…السلام عليكم

Although about 29 musical texts were discovered at Ugarit, only this text, (text H6), was in a sufficient state of preservation to allow for modern academic musical reconstruction.

In short, the Cuneiform text clearly indicated specific names for lyre strings, and their respective musical intervals — a sort of “Guitar tablature”, for lyre!

Although discovered in modern day Syria, the Hurrians were not Syrian — they came from modern day Anatolia. The Hurrian Hymn actually dates to the very end of the Hurrian civilisation (c.1400BCE) . The Hurrian civilization dates back to at least 3000 BCE. It is an incredible thought, that just maybe, the musical texts found at Ugarit, preserved precious sacred Hurrian music which may have already been thousands of years old, prior to their inscription for posterity, on the clay tablets found at Ugarit!

My arrangement here, is based on the original transcription of the melody, as interpreted by Prof. Richard Dumbrill. Here is a link to his book, “The Archeomusicology of the Ancient Near East”:
http://bit.ly/d3aovp

A photograph of the actual clay tablet on which the Hurrian Hymn was inscribed, can be seen here:

http://phoenicia.org/music.html

The melody is one of several academic interpretations, from the ambiguous Cuneiform text of the Hurrian language in which it was written. Although many of the meanings of the Hurrian language are now lost in the mists of time, it can be established that the fragmentary Hurrian Hymn which has been found on these precious clay tablets are dedicated to Nikkal; the wife of the moon god.

There are several such interpretations of this melody, but to me, the fabulous interpretation just somehow sounds the most “authentic”. Below is a link to the sheet music, as interpreted by Clint Goss:

http://www.flutekey.com/pdf/HurrianTa…

In my arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn, I have attempted to illustrate an interesting diversity of ancient lyre playing techniques, ranging from the use of “block and strum” improvisation at the end, glissando’s, trills & tremolos, and alternating between harp-like tones in the left hand produced by finger-plucked strings, and guitar-like tones in the right hand, produced by use of the plectrum.

I have arranged the melody in the style of a “Theme and Variations” – I first quote the unadorned melody in the first section, followed by the different lyre techniques described above in the repeat, & also featuring improvisatory passages at the end of the performance.

I am also playing the lyre horizontally – a much more authentic playing position, as depicted in ancient illustrations of Middle Eastern Lyre players:

http://www.hebrewhistory.info/factpap…

This also seems a much more stable playing position to me, and I find it much easier to improvise with string-blocking etc when the lyre is held in this manner.

My arrangement of the melody is much slower than the actual academic interpretation – I wanted the improvisations in the variations on the theme to stand out, and to better illustrate the use of lyre techniques by a more rubato approach to the melody.

All of my 9 albums of mystical, ancient lyre music are now available from iTunes . . .

1)”An Ancient Lyre”: http://bit.ly/dhCozi

2)”King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel”: http://bit.ly/9PCIua

3)”The Ancient Biblical Lyre”: http://bit.ly/9hTDje

4)”Lyre of the Levites”: http://bit.ly/9baWuM

5)”Apollo’s Lyre”: http://bit.ly/dhCozi

6)”Ancient Times — Music of The Ancient World”: http://bit.ly/aRF5PD

7)”The Ancient Greek Modes”: http://bit.ly/cZks0o

8)”The Ancient Greek Lyre”: http://bit.ly/bxO7Ra

9)”Ancient Visions — New Compositions for an Ancient Lyre”: http://bit.ly/dCPmRN

Physical CDs are also available anywhere in the world from CD Baby, for 3 of my best selling albums:

“An Ancient Lyre”: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mlevy4

“King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel”: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mlevy

“Lyre of the Levites”: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mlevy2

For full details about my albums of lyre music, and the fascinating ancient historical background, please visit my official website:

http://www.ancientlyre.com

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, who used the video only in passing, oddly enough.


Monkey Day 4 Stone Hearth

December 21, 2010

What the heck is Monkey Day?

The 108th edition of 4 Stone Hearth is up at This is Serious Monkey Business.

A sample:

Over at her blog, Barbara J. King writes about The Cognitive Watershed and Nut-Cracking Monkey Pushback wherein she explains one of the finer (and, in my personal opinion, coolest) aspects of primatology, nut-cracking, and uses bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidosus) to exemplify these foraging techniques. Pretty timely as the holidays approach, eh?

DNApes has also got a fantastic article that’s been hitting the news recently about Monitoring the Health of Endangered, Wild Chimpanzees. I’m particularly interested in disease ecology in primates, so this article was a special treat for me given that it looks at the potential for retroviral diseases in chimpanzees and the risks posed to hunters as a result.

How did humans get HIV, anyway?

Does it seem to you we have fewer blog carnivals coming to town these days?


World history teachers, take quick note! Paleolithic sources

September 7, 2010

More accurately, sources on the paleolithic.

K. Kris Hirst at About.com blogs about archaeology at least weekly – I just subscribe to her stuff and get it when it comes.  So, file this under “I get e-mail.”

This week, she’s got stuff world history teachers could use on the old stone age.  See if this doesn’t pique your interest:

From K. Kris Hirst, your Guide to Archaeology

It’s the beginning of a new school year, and as every one knows, World History begins with the Paleolithic period–the Old Stone Age, the evolutionary moment from which all of our amazing human culture derives. Keep that trowel sharp!

Guide to the Stone Age
The Stone Age (known to scholars as the Paleolithic era) in human prehistory is the name given to the period between about 2.5 million and 20,000 years ago. It begins with the earliest human-like behaviors of crude stone tool manufacture, and ends with fully modern human hunting and gathering societies…. Read more

Control of Fire
The discovery of fire, or, more precisely, the controlled use of fire was, of necessity, one of the earliest of human discoveries. Fire’s purposes are multiple, some of which are to add light and heat, to cook plants and animals, to clear forests for planting, to heat-treat stone for making stone tools, to burn clay for ceramic objects…Read more

The Invention of Footwear
Believe it or not, we humans have worn shoes of one sort or another for some 40,000 years! Read more

The Ileret Footprints
Not as well known and much younger than the Laetoli footprints are the Ileret footprints, two sets of fossilized footprints of a possible Homo erectus or Homo ergaster discovered at the FwJj14E site, near the modern town of Ileret in Kenya. Read more

See what I mean? Go see what else she’s got.  Some of us are going into the third week, and are already past that lecture . . .


Four Stone Hearth #88: Sit, read and warm yourself

March 20, 2010

Four Stone Hearth #88 rests nicely in the St. Patrick’s Day edition at Ad Hominin.

World history and geography teachers, take special note.  There are real gems in this one.

Lots more stuff.  Which articles do you find compelling?

Odd update, January 23, 2013:  The link to “List of the 100 best blogs for anthropology students” is dead; it went to a page from OnlineDegrees.net.  I have an odd request from that site asking me to remove the link because it’s “over-optimized,” and they are trying to get straight with Google.  It all sounds shady to me.

My apologies, Dear Reader, for having linked to such a shady source as OnlineDegrees.net.  I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.

http://www.onlinedegrees.net/blog/2010/100-best-blogs-for-anthropology-students/


Time to start making huge stone heads

November 29, 2009

Well, maybe not yet.

But consider Jared Diamond’s 1997 essay in Discover:

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?

Among the most riveting mysteries of human history are those posed by vanished civilizations. Everyone who has seen the abandoned buildings of the Khmer, the Maya, or the Anasazi is immediately moved to ask the same question: Why did the societies that erected those structures disappear?

Diamond’s essay appears in different, and longer form (as I recall) as a chapter in his book Collapse.  That book is all about why civilizations collapse.

A lot of it boils down to wasting of resources.  Easter Island had not always been the grass-only rock with just a couple of thousand people clinging to a desperate existence, as Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen found it on Easter Sunday, 1722 (April 5).  When the ancestors of the tiny population found the island, it had forests, and probably animals, and rich enough resources to support a larger population.

Until they deforested it, hunted to near extinction every animal that couldn’t escape, and caused the collapse of their own civilization.

Is this an analogy for what humans are doing to the planet now with pollution, especially atmospheric-warming air pollution?

Diamond concluded his essay:

I suspect, though, that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper. After all, there are those hundreds of abandoned statues to consider. The forest the islanders depended on for rollers and rope didn’t simply disappear one day-it vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation. Our Pacific Northwest loggers are only the latest in a long line of loggers to cry, “Jobs over trees!” The changes in forest cover from year to year would have been hard to detect: yes, this year we cleared those woods over there, but trees are starting to grow back again on this abandoned garden site here. Only older people, recollecting their childhoods decades earlier, could have recognized a difference. Their children could no more have comprehended their parents’ tales than my eight-year-old sons today can comprehend my wife’s and my tales of what Los Angeles was like 30 years ago.

Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.

By now the meaning of Easter Island for us should be chillingly obvious. Easter Island is Earth writ small. Today, again, a rising population confronts shrinking resources. We too have no emigration valve, because all human societies are linked by international transport, and we can no more escape into space than the Easter Islanders could flee into the ocean. If we continue to follow our present course, we shall have exhausted the world’s major fisheries, tropical rain forests, fossil fuels, and much of our soil by the time my sons reach my current age.

Resources:

Jared Diamond in a 2003 appearance at TED:


Four Stone Hearth #69 at Wanna Be an Anthropologist

June 21, 2009

Four Stone Hearth #69 plunges into summer, at Wanna Be An Anthropologist.

Quite a thorough edition — there is a lot gathered there, including links to posts about the summer digging of several projects.

There’s a bunch of discussion on open access journals, too, which should be of particular interest to anyone with students doing projects these days.


4 Stone Hearth 68 + remote central = good convergence

June 5, 2009

4 Stone Hearth’s 68th incarnation rises at remote central, among my favorite archaeology/anthropology/ancient history blogs.

Tim has done an outstanding job of shaking good stuff out of the internet tree:  Did cooking make humans smartKris Hirst on the human transition to agriculture (every history teacher needs this one);  The new discovery of a Miocene era ape, in Europe; and returning to a topic I spend so many years listening to at the Senate Labor Comittee, is tobacco worse than cocaine?

That’s just scratching the surface.  Go see.


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