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”:

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


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:


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:


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:


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

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.


Texas State Dinosaur an affront to creationists

October 22, 2009

Texas has a new State Dinosaur.

Scientists are working to make a good model of the beast for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, as reported in the October 6 Fort Worth Star-Telegram (often referred to locally as the “Startle-gram,” but still one of America’s good-to-great newspapers).  David Casstevens reported:

The official state dinosaur would look big even inside Cowboys Stadium.

The creature stood 15 feet tall at the shoulders.

Sixty feet long, head to tail, it weighed 20 tons or more.

Sadly, despite being native to Texas, the species lived and died without ever tasting brisket.

“It was a herbivore,” paleontologist Dale Winkler said.

The quadrupedal sauropod — sort of a giant prehistoric giraffe — was the state’s first vegetarian.

Winkler, an SMU professor, stood with several other men around a workbench inside a building west of Azle, arms folded, their eyes studiously fixed on a rare and wondrous object, the skull that once contained the very small brain of Paluxysaurus jonesi.

They are members of a team that is meticulously reconstructing the dinosaur’s framework.

An articulated skeleton of the beast, which roamed this part of the country more than 100 million years ago, will become the centerpiece of DinoLabs, a dinosaur exhibit at the new $80 million Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which opens Nov. 20.

Texas is the ample belly of the nation’s Bible Belt, don’t you know.  Creationists could not let such science endeavors proceed without their version of a blessing, provided in this case by a letter to the editor by a local guy named Richard Hollerman:

Unwarranted assumptions

David Casstevens’ Oct. 6 story tells of work to restore a dinosaur, Paluxysaurus jonesi, that will soon have its place in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. (See: “Dinosaur skeleton to lead exhibit”)

Thousands of professing Christians, including scientists with advanced degrees, deny basic elements of his account and views held by unbelieving paleontologists. (1) Consistent Christians believe God created dinosaurs relatively recently — about 6,000 years ago — whereas skeptical scientists assert they lived 100 million years ago. (2) Christians contend that dinosaurs were created as dinosaurs instead of evolving from prehistoric life that spontaneously sprang from nonlife 3 billion years ago. (3) Consistent Christians believe that dinosaurs became extinct after the worldwide Noaic flood 4,500 years ago.

We totally reject the unfounded assertion that this dinosaur “roamed this part of the country more than 100 million years ago” — as the reporter asserts. The discerning reader can verify this by consulting the Institute for Creation Research ( www.icr.org), Answers in Genesis ( www.answersingenesis.org), Apologetics Press ( www.apologeticspress.org) and others showing the fallacy of the evolution model and reasonableness of recent creation, along with the creation and extinction of dinosaurs.

I encourage the Star-Telegram to report these findings in a way that harmonizes with established facts instead of blindly accepting unfounded assertions by unbelieving paleontologists.

— Richard Hollerman, Richland Hills

You should be impressed that so many other local residents have differing views.  The newspaper published several letters in response to Hollerman, on October 17:

Good science vs. non-science

After reading Richard Hollerman’s Oct. 14 letter, “Unwarranted assumptions,” I gather that he believes that only atheist scientists think that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old.

That is incorrect. The vast majority of scientists, regardless of religious beliefs, think that the evidence is overwhelming that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old. If he needs some examples of scientists who are Christian, specifically evangelical Christians, I would point out Mary Schweitzer, Keith Miller, Francis Collins, Richard G. Colling and Stephen J. Godfrey, who are biologists and paleontologists and are also evangelical Christians. Were it not for space limitations I could list thousands more.

This is not about belief vs. disbelief. It is about good science vs. non-science.

— Bill Robinson, Arlington

Hollerman and “thousands of professing Christians” have declared that their religious beliefs trump science, and they have a constitutional right to their notions. On top of that, they also have their churches, family units, private schools, home schooling, colleges that teach pseudo-science and the amazing Creation Museums in which Noah built a third tier on the “ark” to keep dinosaurs at a respectful distance. Fine.

Those of us who do not share the beliefs of “thousands” ask only that you use the aforementioned resources to educate your young, accustom yourselves to the thought of life in a Third World country and leave the rest of us alone!

— Jackie Bell, River Oaks

According to creationists, science is correct about the following:

Chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering, sociology, systems science, psychology, medicine, nuclear science, agronomy, astronomy, nanotechnology, acoustics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, electronics, fluid dynamics, geophysics, plasma physics, vehicle dynamics, solar astronomy, meteorology, limnology, soil science, toxicology, marine biology, parasitology, anatomy, biochemistry, structural biology, entomology, cetology, phylogeny, algebra, calculus, cartography, geopolitics, criminology, agriculture, language engineering, pathology, pediatrics, nutrition, physical therapy and dermatology.

But for some reason, according to creationists, science is wrong about evolution. How is that even possible?

— Mark Stevens, Fort Worth

Millions of professing Christians, including intelligent people from all religions and all walks of life, view the basic elements of paleontology as reasonable and logical. (1) Bones found in the different layers of soil show a chronological time line extending much further than 6,000 years ago. (2) Evolution is an observable, rational concept that is ongoing even in today’s “educated” world. (3) Claims that dinosaurs became extinct in a worldwide flood 4,500 years ago are laughable.

Uneducated Christians contend that dinosaurs became extinct in the Noaic flood, yet if you read the Bible it says Noah took two of every animal into the ark to preserve the different species. Did he overlook dinosaurs? Were they deemed unfit to survive by God?

Being raised as a Southern Baptist, I was taught that God guided evolution to fit His plan. Even the most devout Christians in my church had enough intelligence to see the facts that were right before their eyes. I encourage Star-Telegram readers to open their minds and their eyes to prevent the corruption of future generations and find a way to harmonize their beliefs with established facts instead of blindly accepting unfounded fantasies from uneducated Christians.

— Terry Brennan, Haltom City

I sat in total amazement after reading Hollerman’s letter disagreeing with the history of the Paluxysaurusjonesi. To cite Genesis as a historical reference is almost laughable, except for the fact that there are people who honestly believe the Adam and Eve story of creation. To believe that humans lived in this form, only with less clothing, millions of years ago is incredulous to say the least.

I give thanks that there is a science that disproves these myths. Why can’t these folks see the divine spirit in the creation and evolution of life forms on our planet, rather than actually believing what is in the Bible literally? I find it exciting that there are higher forms of being, and that new knowledge is being revealed every moment of every day.

— Betsy Stell, Arlington

I don’t know whom Hollerman was referring to in his letter when he wrote about “Consistent Christians.” I guess he means “fundamentalists” since they’re the only ones who believe in Bronze Age myths rather than modern science. Or perhaps he means people who believe the pseudo-science in the silly, anti-evolution Christian fundamentalist Web sites he cited.

The truth, of course, is that every scientific discipline from archeology to zoology contributes to the vast body of knowledge and huge amount of evidence supporting evolution. Thanks, Star-Telegram, for publishing facts and not allegorical stories written by Middle Eastern tribesmen thousands of years ago.

— Terry McDonald, Grapevine

I was impressed by the Star-Telegram’s reporting on the restoration of the fossil Paluxysaurus jonesi by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The article gave the facts and some feel-good information about the people involved in the reconstruction of the dino fossil.

However, Hollerman’s letter would be a joke if it weren’t for the fact that so many people really do think that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and will deny the fact that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. It has been proven by scientific method.

Creationists have a distorted view because the one book that they use (written 2,000 years ago by primitives) disagrees with the science that proves the existence of natural history. The age of this fossil is not unfounded but rests on the work of many thousands of scientists over a couple of hundred years in scores of different scientific disciples. The scientific method that is used to vet new and existing research is a crucible that is used to sort facts from fallacy and has been used to debunk fake, false and misleading science for a couple of hundred years.

We would still be living in caves without the scientific and technological advances that we enjoy today. I applaud the Star-Telegram for its fair and unbiased science reporting. Keep it up.

— Charlie Rodriguez, Arlington

Meanwhile, e-mails between members of Texas Citizens for Science chase another interesting facet:  Where in Texas is there enough Jurassic rock to support such a find?

Oh, those scientists!

More information:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Annette Carlisle, a member of Texas Citizens for Science.

Cast away a note in a bottle, in the Paluxy River:

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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.

Four Stone Hearth #64 at Quiche Moraine

April 12, 2009

Do you have to know geology to get the title of that blog?

Four Stone Hearth 64 is hosted by Quiche Moraine.  Lots of good stuff.  F’rinstance:

With a few hours, an ambitious teacher could get 20 or 30 good bell-ringers out of FSH.  Bell ringers based on real research — what a concept.

A modern version of an ancient hearth - State Cooking Pot of Utah, the Dutch oven - photo by Jason Slemons

A modern version of an ancient hearth - State Cooking Pot of Utah, the Dutch oven - photo by Jason Slemons

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