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Silver Lyre, Ur, Mesopotamia

Silver Lyre, Ur, Mesopotamia


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Silver Lyre, Ur, Mesopotamia - History

By Mehmet Kurtkaya
Published online on November 14, 2016 (Updated May 30, 2017)

The oldest gold ornaments in history were found in Royal Tombs of Ur, dating back to third millennium BC. Gold had a special place in their culture.

The Sumerian Bull head, as part of a Sumerian lyre, is made of gold and lapis lazuli. Bull represented Sky god An and Sun god Ut in Sumer. So, gold was used for the Sun and blue-colored lapis lazuli for the Sky.

Sumerians were expert metal workers, yet there are no gold mines in the area, neither silver. How did this happen?

They may have traded with others, but what about the expertise of working metals? Where did they acquire it from?

When we wonder about the origins of the metals they used, we should also be looking at the origins of the gemstones like lapis lazuli and carnelian. We know for sure that lapis lazuli came from Eastern Afghanistan. Carnelian was used in the Indus valley, and Sumerians had extensive relations with the Indus valley. Meghara and Mojendro Daro civilizations are near the Indus Valley. So, the gemstones came from near Central Asia, the historic heartland of Turks.

We know copper came from the Gur (misnamed Hurrian) people residing in Anatolia (Turkey). Their vocabulary relating to copper is from the Gur language (Hurrian).

We know how central gold is to Turkic ornaments in Siberia and Central Asia, albeit from finds dated at a later period.

Gold as a durable, malleable, non-oxidizing, shiny metal is the best symbol for the sun, the source of energy and life on earth.

Turks are historically known as expert metal workers, both as weapon makers and as goldsmiths (Note that Turkish word for gold, altin is almost the same as the word golden). The current Turkish finds go back about 3,000 years. During the iron age, Turks were top iron workers too. Examples of Turkic gold ornaments are plenty, like The Man with a Golden Dress and Scythian finds in Pazyryk Kurgan located in Siberia near Altai mountains.

Sumerian Gold may have come from India, Turkey, or Iran.

Silver was used as money for exchanging goods and labor!

Sumerians used silver for its weight, and they called it shekel. For example, 1 shekel equals one 1 gur of barley. Where did the silver come from? Iraq, where Sumer civilization flourished, has two neighbors, Turkey and Iran, as potential sources.

Also See: Presentation by Gunnar Heinsohn in 2009: Comparing Sumerian and Scythian civilizations with pictures of beautiful gold-made artwork (Scythians are largely Turkic, mixing with Iranian/Indo-European populations in some regions):

Scythian and Sumerian gold artifacts Note: The presentation itself, including its main premise, is erroneous. However, it is good for Sumerian and Scythian gold artwork comparison. (Scythians are largely Turkic, mixing with Iranian/Indo European populations in some regions.)

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Scales and Tuning in Ancient Music

FIG. 5. HAND COPY OF A FRAGMENTARY CUNEIFORM TABLET FROM NIPPUR. The text concerns Old Babylonian instructions related to the playing and singing of hymns. UPM N 3354. From Kilmer and Civil 1986:98 FlG. 6. THE 7 SCALES IN USE FROM AT LEAST CA. 1800 BC TO THE MIDDLE OF THE 1ST MILLENIUM. The brackets indicate the tritone. The sharps and flats show what the whole-step/half-step arrangement is in each scale. The scale third from the bottom is equivalent to our major (do-re-mi) scale, that from c to C on the white notes of the piano, without any sharps and flats.

Among the many cuneiform tablets studied we have been fortunate to have recognized, since 1959, a small number of texts that relate to the tuning and play­ing of ancient instruments (see map on p. 3). Thus far, cuneiformists have identified ten Mesopotamian tablets (Fig. 5) that contain technical information about ancient musical scales. We now know that by the Old Babylonian period in ancient Iraq (i.e., by at least ca. 1800 BC, or about 850 years after the period of the Royal Cemetery of Ur), there existed standardized tun­ing procedures that operated within a heptatonic, dia­tonic system consisting of seven different and interrelated scales (see box with Glossary of Musical Terms). The fact that these seven scales could be equat­ed with seven ancient Greek scales (dating some 1400 years later) quite startled the scholarly community and the fact that one of the scales in common use was equiv­alent to our own modern major scale (do-re-mi. . . ) seemed difficult for many to believe (Fig. 6). But research on the part of several cuneiformists and musi­cologists working together has been strengthened over the years by the steady accumulation of cuneiform tablets that use the same standard corpus of Akkadian terms to designate the names of the musical strings the names of the instruments and their parts fingering tech­niques the names of musical intervals (fifths, fourths, thirds, and sixths) and the names of the seven scales that derive their nomenclature from the particular interval of a fourth or a fifth on which the tuning procedure starts.

Two of these important technical texts came from the site of Ur, while three others came from another rich Sumerian site, the ancient city of Nippur. It is highly probable that the tuning systems evidenced in the Akkadian language in texts dating from the Old Babylonian to the Neo-Babylonian period (ca. 1800-500 BO had earlier Sumerian antecedents, because many of the technical terms in Akkadian have Sumerian equiva­lents.

We also know that the Sumero-Babylonian musical system was exported at least as far away as the Mediterranean coast, for the same Akkadian corpus of terms was used for instructions to instrumentalists per­forming Hurrian cult hymns in ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Sham) in Syria. It is not a stretch of the imagina­tion to suggest that the ancient Greeks did, as Pythagoras said, learn Mesopotamian music theory—together with their mathematics—in the Near East.


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Gallery

Cow's head of the Silver Lyre, from the Great Death Pit at the Royal Cemetery, Ur, southern Mesopotamia, Iraq. The British Museum, London


This lyre was found in the &lsquoGreat Death-Pit&rsquo, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women -laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another. They were all made from wood which had decayed by the time they were excavated, but two of them, of which this is one, were entirely covered in sheet silver attached by small silver nails. The plaques down the front of the sounding box are made of shell. The silver cow&rsquos head decorating the front has inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. The edges of the sound box have a narrow border of shell and lapis lazuli inlay.

When found, the lyre lay in the soil. The metal was very brittle and the uprights were squashed flat. First it was photographed, and then covered in wax and waxed cloth to hold it together for lifting. The silver on the top and back edge of the sounding box had been destroyed. Some of the silver preserved the impression of matting on which it must have originally lain. Eleven silver tubes acted as the tuning pegs.

Such instruments were probably important parts of rituals at court and temple. There are representations of lyre players and their instruments on cylinder seals, and on the Standard of Ur being played alongside a possible singer.


Category Archives: Lyre of Ur

The bull head of the Lyre of Ur peeks out of a beautiful cover sent to Andy Lowings by an Iraqi woman from Baghdad, who painted it by hand. `Iraqi bull just refused to be kept in!` Mr. Lowings said. (LPhoto courtesy of Andy Lowings)

A year ago, I discovered and wrote about the Golden Lyre of Ur Project, a multinational effort to recreate the 4,750-year-old instrument from scratch, just as the Ancient Mesopotamians did.

The project was spearheaded by Andy Lowings, a man who put his mind to doing something amazing and set out to do it. What he ended up with was a worldwide sensation (at times met and welcomed with a rose-petal-strewn stage, no less!) that brings to life an ancient world unknown to many.

Although the post mentioning the Golden Lyre of Ur Project has been on the blog since November of 2011, I wasn’t lucky enough to hear from Mr. Lowings until just a few months ago. It is an honor to now be in contact with such an amazing individual, who I’m sure is a reincarnated Ancient Mesopotamian!

So, without further delay, here is a Q&A I did with Mr. Lowings, through which I’m sure you will find him an inspiring individual that reminds us that no matter what we set out to do, passion drives us further than we can possibly imagine. He also makes it look easy, but rest assured that only he can carry it out so beautifully!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how and when you became interested in Mesopotamian history?

Of course! It`s a nice thing to be asked about yourself from across the world, thank you for taking an interest!

I`m a Civil Engineer and I spent 9 years in Dubai and enjoyed building up the city there in the 70`s. I liked the Arab world and enjoyed the big mix of different people there in the Emirates.

At that time everyone was thinking big and changing the world with new airports and hotels and roads. Everyone mixed-in well there and got on with making it happen…no-one ever said anything was impossible. I came back to Britain and then worked on the Channel Tunnel..the longest 24-mile railway under the sea to France. I think they all taught me that you could do anything.

But I also played the harp, and after a while, through the new `Internet`, I looked at the first musical instruments of all … some found in Iraq in 1929. It seemed like a well-kept secret. No-one seemed to know of these great artifacts found in Ur. All so very, very, old!

I thought that it would be a nice thing to make one of the Lyres again and see how it sounded! I thought the Baghdad Gold Lyre was the nicest and so, one day, April 10 th , 2003, I said I`d make that one.

The very next day the Museum in Baghdad was looted and the original Lyre was vandalised! It was just fate. It was all over the world press and it was clear that it was a well-loved Iraqi icon. So I had to make a playable version of it.

Transporting the Lyre into Washington DC to the Smithsonian Theatre! (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

How is the Golden Lyre of Ur project doing now that it’s been around for a few years?

What started just as a hobby suddenly became of interest to lots of other people, and I managed to involve them into helping…though to be honest it was clear what existing sympathy there was, for ordinary Iraqis after the war. People were very kind and offered to help in what fields they could.

Since then, we have discovered lots about other aspects connected to the instruments of the Royal Graves at Ur. There are cuneiform texts and linguists busy interpreting them, there`s musicians and archaeologists, precious metal workers, artists and museums…all who have lots to give, in connection to these ancient times.

So we have tried to involve them too, in the story of these first musical instruments. We go to talk about different aspects to various groups. People are eager to find out what we have learned or just to hear the story of how we made the Gold Lyre again and how it connects us all today. We go to museums, universities, schools, conferences and festivals all over.

But we always try to make the connection to Iraq and its past, and so it`s always special when we meet Iraqi people who are interested. We met the Baghdad Museum staff one day in London and they were amazed at what everyone had made.

Even Kadim Al Sahir came and sat inside the van to see the Lyre with me after his concert at the Albert Hall in London…whilst hundreds of fans were outside shouting! He was a great guy.

We have just performed at the local college to drama students and later this month we will go to Cambridge University for archaeologists there. We will be providing the music! So there are lots of ideas for how to bring the Gold Lyre of Ur to people`s attention.

But of all the places, we would rather go to Iraq, and show people our Gold Lyre there and bring it to life right there in Baghdad and Basra.

After the “Githarra al someria” show. With Prof. Donny George, Dr Hadi Hind (Iraqi Cultural Attache), Jennifer Sturdy and Andy Lowings. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

You said that the unfortunate looting of the Baghdad museum in April 2003 inspired you to recreate the Golden Lyre of Ur, which lay in pieces afterwards. You’ve also said that you’ve recently recreated some Sumerian jewelry. How did this latest project come about, and what did it entail?

The Gold Lyre was found with 68 women, and it`s likely that the last player who had her hand over it in death was a woman, so in many ways this is a project about women. The jewellery was so spectacular (most of it by the way is still behind the back of the museums in storage there is so much of it) that as part of a performance we could perhaps show a little of the style of the period too.

We went to the British Museum and asked to see the jewellery, and they were kind enough to give us free access. It was such a strange feeling to really hold such tremendous objects from so long ago. We had a little gold offcuts and so thought to make the “Gold choker” which we inspected there in London.

There are actually around 60 of them and thousands of beads and silver objects in the museum. Many of the items are amazingly detailed and as good as anything made today. Tiny details and scrolls and carvings were quite impossible for me to learn how to do. But a jewellery maker near here was giving lessons so I spent the winter making the simpler Gold Choker: alternating gold and lapis lazuli triangles in a neck band.

The finished Gold Sumerian necklace in its box. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Every lady we show it to wants to put it on herself! It immediately makes them look like Queen Pu’Abi herself, and so it`s an added side to our performances. I`m sure in Iraq it would be hugely interesting to the women there.

Are there any other projects related to Mesopotamia you’ve worked on or are working on?

The languages of Mesopotamia are largely unknown or too complicated for people to understand. But only this year the book “Teach Yourself Spoken Babylonian” has been published and so now gives anyone the possibility to actually pronounce the dialects of the old regions! A Cambridge University don has discovered this and so we are making some songs in the real dialects of the time. With the Lyre as an accompaniment of course, it will be a new CD of Mesopotamian hit numbers… from their Sumerian Top “Sixty” maybe?

Recording our new Gold Lyre of Ur song, in November. Its called “The Flood” and its sung in the original Akkadian language by Stef Conner. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Recently, we played the Gold Lyre of Ur in Germany at Lake Constance to a conference of 450 world Lyre players. We were given a huge stage and lights and even a special welcome of rose petals strewn over the stage for the Lyre`s arrival. It was most moving.

So we thought that we might, in future, invite some dancers to make a collaboration with the Gold Lyre. And even to invite an artist to create some backdrop stage images paintings, to set the scene for what the Gold Lyre of Ur is all about. Scenes of old Iraq, old civilisations and reconstruction and new civilisations..

Positive images for the future, I hope. Yet the last chapter of our book has not yet been written..and that must be the visit to Iraq.

How has doing the amazing work you do in educating the world about Mesopotamia in a most unique way changed your life?

It`s been an honour to direct the course of a project. One which started just as a hobby and which now connects so many different people. One which can do some good.

Without doubt it has changed me and everyone who has been involved with it, though it`s not always been simple and easy, I have to say. We have met such great, great people. Brave people, and clever people, kind people who have not asked for anything in return for helping.

Last week a lovely hand-painted Lyre cover was sent to us from a lady in Baghdad (pictured at top of post)…”I wanted to help you,” she said.

I hardly know her name. Who wouldn`t be moved by such generosity coming this way?


A short improvisation on a replica of the Sumerian silver lyre of Ur by Peter Pringle

Peter Pringle plays a replica of the Sumerian silver lyre of Ur.

From his own explanation of how this replica was made:

In 1929, there were five lyres discovered in a royal burial pit in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur (in southern Mesopotamia) by the British archeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley. Unfortunately, these instruments were simply laid in the ground nearly 5000 years ago, and covered over with earth so they were completely crushed flat and any organic material used in their construction quickly rotted and turned to dust. Two of the lyres, however, had been made of wood covered with a layer of silver sheeting about the thickness of a tin can. The wood beneath the silver disintegrated but the silver itself did not, although after 5000 years it became heavily oxidized and turned black. The archeologists poured melted wax over what was left of the lyres and when the wax hardened they carefully lifted them out of the ground. Just to put things into perspective, these instruments were made nearly 2000 years before Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

(…) I had wanted to have a replica of the silver lyre for years, so in the mid 1990’s I wrote to the world famous and highly respected assyriologist, Dr. Anne Kilmer, and sought her advice. She kindly wrote back and sent me all sorts of valuable information that she had accumulated on the subject over her many years of study. It took me nearly 20 years to getting around to building the lyre, but here it is! I feel I should also acknowledge the contribution of the wonderful Professor Richard Dumbrill, whose writings and videos on Sumerian music in general (and the silver lyre in particular) were invaluable.

(…) According to Leonard Woolley’s original notes, there was no trace of a wood backing for the two faces of the silver soundboard, so the front and back of the resonator were two pure silver plates, and not made of wood overlaid with silver. This is a detail that has been overlooked by many luthiers who have attempted to reconstruct this instrument, but it is a factor that would have had a tremendous influence on the sound of the finished lyre. It would have been comparable to the difference between the sound of a classical guitar and the louder, far more resonant timbre of a steel dobro.


The four lyres [ edit ]

The "Golden Lyre of Ur" or "Bull's Lyre" is the finest lyre, and was given to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. Η] Its reconstructed wooden body was damaged due to flooding during the second Iraqi War ⎖] ⎗] a replica of it is being played as part of a touring orchestra. Ώ] The "Golden Lyre" got its name because the whole head of the bull is made of gold. The eyes are made of inlaid mother-of-pearl and lapis lazuli. The beard is similar in appearance to the "Great Lyre" and the "Queen's Lyre". The body of the bull was originally wood but did not survive. Its discoverer, Woolley, believes that unlike the other lyres, the body of the "Golden Lyre" would have originally had legs. Γ]

The "Queen's Lyre" is one of two that Woolley found in the grave of Queen Pu-abi. Α] The "Queen's Lyre" is 110 centimetres (44 in) in height and is similar in appearance to that of the "Great Lyre". ⎘] The mask of the bull is gold. The eyes, hair, and beard are all made of lapis lazuli and the horns are modern. The shape of the lyre is meant to resemble a bull's body. A noticeable difference between the "Great Lyre" and the "Queens Lyre" is that the "Great Lyre" has a straight forehead where the "Queen's Lyre" curves slightly around the brow bone. Γ] It is held in the British Museum. Α]

The "Bull Headed Lyre" is 40 cm in height, 11 cm in width, and 19 cm in depth. The shape of the lyre is meant to resemble a bull's body. Its head, face and horns are all wrapped in gold foil while its hair, beard, and eyes are made of lapis lazuli. ⎙] Below the head is a front panel made of shell inlay set into bitumen ⎚] This panel depicts a figure holding onto a bull's horns above, and animals acting as humans below. The bull head itself likely represents the sun god Utu/Shamash, who was thought to be able to descend into the underworld. Β] The lyre is held in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

The "Silver Lyre" is 110 cm (42 in) in height and 97 cm (38 in) in width. It is one of two silver lyres discovered in "The Great Death Pit". Both lyres were made of wood and then covered in sheets of silver that were attached with small silver nails. The eyes are made of lapis lazuli and the lyre was also trimmed with narrow borders of lapis lazuli. This is the only lyre that is not bearded. Because of this fresh face some believe it is actually a cow rather than a bull.

The Penn Museum also holds a silver boat-shaped Lyre. ⎙]


Silver Lyre, Ur, Mesopotamia - History

This April, the Museum is hosting its first major music festival. The galleries will be filled with the sound of music from across the world, from classical traditional Indian music and Chinese kunqu opera to 20th-century European avant-garde works by composers such as Stockhausen, Berio and Ligeti. With these unique performances taking place surrounded by objects in the collection, our curators have orchestrated this list of 15 musical instruments from around the world and across time.

1. Mesopotamian lyre

Silver lyre. Royal Cemetery of Ur, now in southern Iraq, 2600 BC.

This imposing silver lyre was played in Mesopotamia (modern-day southern Iraq) over 4,000 years ago. Music was an important aspect of many celebratory and ritual occasions in ancient Mesopotamia. The lyre is made of lavishly decorated silver and red limestone. The frame, tuners and strings are modern reproductions made from casts of the long-decayed wooden parts. The decorated panels below the bull’s head depict fallow deer and a tree on a hill, lions attacking a goat, and a lion attacking a gazelle.

2. Medieval citole

Citole made of wood, silver and gold. England, c. 1280–1330.

This richly decorated instrument, dripping with carved foliage, has an interesting story. It was originally made between 1280 and 1330 as a citole, a medieval guitar-like instrument, usually with four strings. This one is intriguing as it was converted into a violin at some point – possibly during the 16th century or later when the violin was becoming more fashionable. The coats of arms of Queen Elizabeth I and her alleged lover Robert Dudley appear on the silver plate at the headstock.

3. Ancient Egyptian harp

Arched wooden harp. Tomb of Ani, Thebes, Egypt, New Kingdom (c. 1550–1070 BC).

Harps like this highly decorated example were played at ancient Egyptian banquets – they’re often shown in scenes covering the walls of tombs. This one was found in a tomb and is over 3,000 years old. The strings were plucked two at a time, and depictions of harps show they could be accompanied by singers and instruments that resemble lutes and oboes. Songs at banquets were usually dedicated to deities.

4. Arabian lute

Arabian lute made of cedar, Indian rosewood, ebony and bone. Basra, Iraq, 1981.

This Arabian lute (oud in Arabic) was made by the famous Iraqi luthier Fawzi Monshid of Basra in 1981. The cedar wood soundboard has decorative details in ebony, rosewood and bone and the belly is made of strips of north Indian rosewood. This beautiful instrument has been synonymous with the music of the Middle East for centuries, and the word ‘lute’ originally comes from a corruption of the Arabic al-oud. This magnificent example will go on display in the Museum’s new Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic world, due to open in October 2018, where you will be able to hear a recording of it played by the London-based master Ahmed Mukhtar.

5. Statue of a woman playing a lyre from Cyprus

This limestone statue of a woman playing a lyre was dedicated in a shrine in ancient Cyprus around 300–250 BC to entertain and honour the gods for eternity. This type of statue represents high status women who took part in major religious festivals as priestesses. The dress and jewellery indicate that she was a member of the upper classes, while her wreath signifies that she is a worshipper. The strings of the lyre are still faintly visible in red paint – this whole statue was most likely painted.

6. A satirical print of a celebrated performer

George Cruikshank (1792–1878), A celebrated performer in the philharmonic society. Hand-coloured etching, 10 May 1818.

This satirical print made by George Cruikshank is a portrait of a violinist, thought to be P Spagnoletti (1768–1834). He was the leader of the orchestra at the King’s Theatre (Opera) for nearly 30 years, and one of the first Associates of the Philharmonic Society founded in 1813. The violin forms the performer’s face and the sound-holes create the eyes and nose.

7. A Roman water-organ

A water-organ (hydraulis) on a Roman bronze medallion, 4th–5th century AD.

Invented in the 3rd century BC, the water-organ (hydraulis) was the most elaborate musical instrument of classical antiquity. Here, the seated musician is shown turned towards his audience with his back to the pipes. When played, assistants were needed to work the long-handled pumps seen either side to keep up water pressure in a tank forcing up air through keys and into the pipes. Roman art sometimes shows organs accompanying gladiator combat – a bloodthirsty purpose compared to their long subsequent association with churches.

8. Chinese flute

Porcelain flute with gilt decoration and transparent glaze and silk tassel. Dehua, Fujian province, Qing dynasty, about AD 1800–1900. On loan from the Sir Percival David Collection.

Dehua wares of the period AD 1600–1911 are typified by figures and vessels with a granular sugary white body and either a blue-tinged or creamy glaze. The pure whiteness of these ceramics is due to the relative absence of iron impurities in the body – indeed the clay used contains only half a percent of ferric oxide. This flute has the character 清 (Qing, meaning pure) in the mouthpiece.

9. Jewish shofar

This musical instrument is made from a ram’s horn, and today it is used mainly in synagogue services during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It has a distinctive sound, and is blown following an elaborate order of sounds and notes. The custom of sounding a shofar on ceremonial occasions originated in biblical times. It is first mentioned in the Book of Exodus when God revealed himself at Mount Sinai and the sound of the shofar made the Israelites tremble in awe.

10. Ancient Greek wooden pipes

Wooden auloi (pipes). Said to be from Athens, 5th–4th century BC.

Whenever people came together in ancient Greece, there was likely to be some form of musical accompaniment. There were joyful songs to celebrate marriage and childbirth, sad lamentation after death, work-songs for harvesting, grinding grain and weaving, drinking songs, love songs and even songs for curing illness. Auloi are pipes made of wood, bone or metal blown through a reed inserted into the end, and were often played in pairs. They were used as the musical accompaniment in Greek theatre.

11. Tibetan trumpet

Trumpets like this were used in Buddhist temples across Asia, blown to call monks to services, and were usually decorated with textile streamers. This large example is made from a conch shell and decorated with gilt-copper and semi-precious stones. A very lively dragon stands in contrast against the background of clouds indicated by lapis lazuli, with its body inlaid with coral and other semi-precious stones.

12. Sámi drum

Sámi drum. Norway, Sweden or Finland, 1500–c. 1680.

Made of wood and reindeer skin, drums like this were an important tool for survival for the Sámi people, whose homeland covers parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, as well as the Kola Peninsula in Russia. These drums were magical weapons that, in the hands of a shaman, or noaidi, could help to protect the community. In front of a flickering fire, the noaidi would beat the drum rhythmically, using the sound like a drug to enter a trance. Magic drums were used by Sámi for many generations, and this may be among the oldest surviving examples.

13. Akan drum

Akan drum. Made in Ghana, 18th century.

This drum is one of the earliest surviving African-American objects. It was made by the Akan people of Ghana in West Africa and constructed from wood, vegetable fibre and deer skin. It would have been played at religious ceremonies or social occasions as part of an ensemble, and hit with an open hand. It was probably brought to America on a slave ship in the early 18th century, arriving in Virginia. Despite the oppression of slavery, drumming and other African musical traditions continued in colonial America, giving rise to many different kinds of music.

14. An Indonesian metallophone

Metallophone (saron). Java, Indonesia, late 18th century–early 19th century.

A saron is an Indonesian metallophone with seven bronze keys on top of a wooden frame. It is played with a mallet made of wood or buffalo horn. Predominantly used in Java and Bali, the instrument is part of a larger orchestral ensemble known as a gamelan. An integral part of Indonesian culture, gamelans normally accompany dance and puppet (wayang) performances, rituals and ceremonies.

15. Rattle from ancient Cyprus

Terracotta rattle in the shape of a pig. Cyprus, 300–100 BC.

This adorably cute pig-shaped rattle from ancient Cyprus dates from around 300–100 BC. Made from terracotta, it may have been used to keep the beat in music or dance, or to scare off evil spirits with its rattling sound. It could also have been a toy, as a few examples have been found in children’s graves.

Europe and the world: a symphony of cultures takes place from 16–29 April 2018. The performances will be accompanied by a series of panel discussions that will explore the role of museums in complex political times, as places to listen, to debate and to experience music.

Share your thoughts and experiences of the festival using #BMmusicfestival.

This festival is organised by the British Museum and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and made possible by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.


Watch the video: Silver lyre of Ur replica (July 2022).


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