• Sunday, Oct 02, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

Earliest shell horn played for first time in 17,000 years

  • Published at 07:31 am February 16th, 2021
A Charonia lampas trumpet shell, which was first found in 1931 in an archaeological dig at the mouth of the Marsoulas Cave
A Charonia lampas trumpet shell, which was first found in 1931 in an archaeological dig at the mouth of the Marsoulas Cave, at the museum in Toulouse on February 10 AFP

Scientists believe the ancient conch, from a species of large sea snail still present in the Atlantic and North Sea

After more than 17,000 years of silence and decades forgotten in a French museum, a shell fashioned into a horn by our prehistoric ancestors has been played again as a result of new research published. 

Scientists believe the ancient conch, from a species of large sea snail still present in the Atlantic and North Sea, is the oldest wind instrument of its type yet found. 

The shell was unearthed in 1931 at an archaeological dig in the Pyrenees near the mouth of the Marsoulas Cave, whose walls are painted with the artwork of Magdalenian people living there at the end of the last ice age.  

Scientists initially thought it bore no trace of human modification, assuming it was a type of ceremonial drinking cup. It was taken to the Museum of Natural History in Toulouse and forgotten.   

But a new examination using modern technology found not only that it had been altered, but that it could still hold a note.

Or three, as it turned out.  

Played by a musician, it had tones close to C, C sharp and D. And it boomed at a resounding 100 decibels a metre from the conch.   

"This sound is a link, a direct link with Magdalenian people," said Carole Fritz, lead author of the study and a senior scientist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research.  

She said it was "very important because you have the sea in the cave", adding the shell was from the Atlantic, some 200 kilometres from the cave. 

Instruments older than the conch have been found -- flutes whittled from the bones of large birds like swans and eagles -- but the researchers said this was the oldest shell horn, symbolising the importance of the ocean to Magdalenian people. 

The study, published in Science Advances, said radio-carbon dating of items at the cave suggest it was occupied around 18,000 years ago.

"To our knowledge, the Marsoulas shell is unique in the prehistoric context, not only in France but also at the scale of Paleolithic Europe and perhaps the world," the study said.

One clue to the shell's importance was its markings. Painted red dots the size and shape of fingerprints are similar to those used to depict bison on the cave wall. 

When the shell was discovered in the 1930s, scientists likely assumed its broken tip -- leaving a 3.5 cm diameter opening -- was due to accidental damage, said co-author Gilles Tosello, researcher at the centre for prehistoric art at Toulouse University. 

But this is the strongest part of the shell and is "almost impossible" to break naturally, he said.

On closer inspection, researchers found the shell had been carefully modified with an "elaborated technique", with a CT scan revealing two holes that they think were drilled to install a mouthpiece.

50
Facebook 50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail