Music has been around for one hell of a long time, and as modern civilization continues to unravel the story of our own origins, we’re finding continuing evidence that music was an evolving form of expression alongside our own growth as a society. Back in the 1950s, archaeologists discovered several clay tablets from roughly 3,400 years ago, which reportedly contain the oldest known written piece of music ever discovered.
According to OpenCulture, the tablets were reportedly found in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit, and possess symbols of the hurrian language. The translation of the symbols led to the discovery of an ancient cult hymn, and while this seems to be the perfect jumping off point for an old-world chant conjuring demons or opening a portal to the bowels of Hell, it’s more along the lines of “holy crap, we’ve just discovered a boring piece of music from ancient history”.
Listen to the piece below, played through what was undoubtedly the go-to instrument for ancient Sumerians: a midi keyboard. Be warned, it sounds like crap – but Mozart wouldn’t come along for a few millennia yet.
In 1972, the interpretation of musical notation was compiled by Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, 1972. While the process and reasoning for the translations is well-documented, a number of ancient-history scholars have developed their own similar interpretations as well.
A 1988 Archeologia Musicalis article confirms the theory that “the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago.” This puts a better context on the design of ancient music, and “flies in the face of most musicologist’s views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks.”
We’re going to really blow some minds when we finally build that time machine and bring some Zeppelin back to the Stone Age.