Archaeomusicology: Ancient Music Back From the Dead

Archaeomusicology Ancient Music Back From the Dead

…archaeomusicology is a rather obscure field – and for good reason.Jan Zak

The field of archaeomusicology is a rather obscure field – and for good reason. Quite simply, ancient music has been hard to come by. Although music and song constituted an important part of ancient cultures, most melodies and compositions evolved, and few written records have survived. Ancient music is a rarity, and “Hurrian Hymn No. 6,” is now considered to be the oldest known melody. The piece dates all the way back to 400 B.C.E., and here it is performed solo by the very talented Michael Levy on the lyre. The hymn was discovered by archaeologists in the 1950’s in Ugarit, in Syria. The written notes were interpreted by Dr. Richard Dumbrill.

In the original, there were twenty-nine musical texts and symbols found in-and-around the ruins of the Hurrian palace at Ugarit. All of inscriptions found dated back to c.1400 B.C.E. The period is considered to be the end of the Hurrian civilization, a culture that traded widely with the region, and especially rich Egypt. The tile, “Hurrian Hymn Number ‘6.’” comes from the numbers given to the musical texts that categorize the notes, which is why even though it is the considered to be the oldest known melody, it is titled hymn number 6. Dr. Dumbrill insists that there is no chronological order implied by the title. For more information you may read Dr. Dumbrill book, entitled “The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East”, which focuses on the hymn from Ugarit.

Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and papyri prove the instrument was alive and well throughout the ancient world…Jan Zak

The lyre is a string instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity, and in later years as well. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp but with distinct differences. Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and papyri prove the instrument was alive and well throughout the ancient world, which was far more interconnected than many may think. Modern enthusiasts have resorted to experimental archaeology by recreating both instruments and musical compositions.

Musical Ceremony

The Lyre in the Ancient World

Sophisticated music was prevalent throughout the ancient world. Although Michael Levy’s work is focused on the lyre’s levitical roots, the instruments is also found in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptians could afford to invest time into musical education on account of the relative economic stability of the Nile valley. Egyptian cities were known to have musical companies which would seek sponsorship from wealthy local clients, such as local governors, and nobility.

Music had a strong religious experience, and it was often the case that deities would be greeted by musicians when their shrines would be open. Besides the lyre, we see early examples of harps, lutes, and the famous Egyptian sistrum – purportedly a magical instrument of the goddess Isis. Music is as important a medium and an art now, just as it was in the ancient world. Travelers to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel are likely to experience a great variety, and even experience ancient interpretations.

Michael Levy
Ancient Music Composer, Lyre Player
Genres: Classical Music
Location: Manchester, United Kingdom
Website: Ancient Lyre

Read more about Michael Levy

Michael Levy began broadcasting his music on YouTube and received requests from more than a thousand subscribers to compile an album. He has recently released exactly that: King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel – a combination of Klezmer arrangements, which are traditional Jewish and Shabbat Songs. Some of the tracks include The Music of Moses, Shalom Chavarim and Ose Shalom. Claiming, “…it has enabled me to get in touch with my ancient Levi routes,” the Manchester-based Mr. Levy tells people, his work is a fantastic contribution to enthusiasts of the ancient world.

Simplicity in beauty; Mr. Levy claims, “…the lyre is such a simple instrument. There are only ten strings but you can get such sounds out of it. When you play it, you feel like you are being transformed to another realm.” His first instrument, the Kinnor was a far more advanced instrument, and held a deep spiritual meaning “The Kinnor was the actual harp of King David, and also of my very own, very ancient Levite ancestors, who once played their Kinnors to accompany the legendary singing of the Levitical Choir, in the Temple of Jerusalem.” Aside from ancient musical interpretation, Mr. Levy also works as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities, and intends to release his CDs both in the UK and America.

Have additional questions?

Jan Zak

Jan Zak

A dual EU-Canadian citizen with roots in Wroclaw, Poland, Jan is responsible for communication and social media. He is an avid sports enthusiast, with a keen love for professional road cycling and world travel. Based out of Toronto, Canada, he is involved in several youth-oriented charities, and referees soccer part-time.


Join the conversation

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...