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This Recently Discovered 1,700-Year-Old Mouth Harp Can Still Hold a Tune

The mouth harp, found in Siberia’s Altai Republic, produces music when you strike or pluck it with a finger

(A.P. Borodovskiy)
smithsonian.com

Up in the mountains of Siberia’s Altai Republic, where the Huns once roamed, archaeologists have found five ancient harps, which were placed in the mouth and plucked to produce music. According to Anna Liesowska of the Siberian Times, when archaeologists tried to play one of the instruments, they found that it still worked.

Discovered at two different archaeological sites (Chultukov Log 9 and Cheremshanka), the relics date to about 1,700 years ago. At the time, the region was dominated by the Huns, who moved into Europe in approximately 370 A.D.

Three of the harps were unfinished, but the other two were complete. And one of the completed harps could still make music. "I myself played on the harp from Cheremshanka," Andrey Borodovsky, a professor at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Heather Brady of National Geographic.

The instruments appear to have been made by splintering the ribs of cows or horses, which distinguishes them from other ancient mouth harps found in the region. The people of Mongolia and the Russian republic of Tuva, for instance, made their harps from the horns of deer.

Music-making has been an important part of human culture for thousands of years—long before the Siberian harps were whittled by unknown craftsmen. Back in 2012, archaeologists working in southern Germany found flutes made from bird bone and mammoth ivory. The flutes were subsequently dated to around 42,000 years ago, making them the oldest-known musical instruments. 

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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