A 5,000-Year-Old Instrument Found In A Tomb In Italy May Reveal The Beautiful Melodies Of Prehistoric Rome

The ancient musical instrument was determined to have belonged to the Neolithic Gaudo culture of Italy and dates back to 3,000 BC.

Ruins during a sunny day.
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The ancient musical instrument was determined to have belonged to the Neolithic Gaudo culture of Italy and dates back to 3,000 BC.

An ancient musical instrument that was found in a 5,000-year-old tomb in Italy may finally reveal the beautiful melodies of prehistoric Italy. Archaeologist Giovanni Carboni first stumbled upon the instrument — which resembles a large walnut shell — during excavations in 2006, but was confused about this artifact at first.

As The New York Times reports, Dr. Carboni’s first response was one of genuine surprise when he cast a glance at the instrument.

“I said — please don’t write this, though, because I said a swear word — I said: ‘What the heck is this thing.'”

The outside of the walnut-shaped instrument was covered with holes and was discovered beside the body of an adult man. Dr. Carboni was quite confused at the time of the discovery, explaining, “I had no idea what it was.”

While it has taken 12 years to finally determine that what he had found was a prehistoric musical instrument from the Neolithic Gaudo culture, the wait was well worth it. Dr. Carboni has found what is believed to be the oldest instrument ever recovered in Italy. The instrument dates back to approximately 3,000 BC.

The first assumption made by examiners was that the instrument may have been used as a cheese strainer, given its many holes. However, after comparing the artifact with two other similar objects that were found close to Naples — which were determined to be the sound boxes of musical instruments — archaeology student Martina Nicole Cerri decided to use the object as the basis for her 2014 doctoral thesis.

Cerri created two different versions of the artifact, including a lyre and a lute, using exactly the same materials that prehistoric Italians would have used to construct these instruments. While she admitted that the finished products were “kindly of ugly to look at,” she noted that they were “extremely difficult to recreate.”

Cerri then turned to archaeology student Alessio Pellegrini, who was a musical person, and asked him whether he believed that the instruments were playable at all. To her great delight, Pellegrini said that they were. Pellegrini later took his brothers with him to a concert at Sapienza University. There — using these recreated musical instruments — they played at the Museum of Origins.

While the music that they played was admittedly “just an interpretation,” Pellegrini explained that this was because “we can’t know who played, how they played, what type of melodies, what rhythms, what kind of tempo.”

Walter Maioli, who specializes in ancient instruments, has said that objects of this kind would have been relatively common in prehistoric Italy — and that Neolithic people often used what he called everyday objects as instruments.

The 5,000-year-old musical instrument that was discovered in Italy was recently put in an exhibition at Sapienza University, as interest continues to be generated in this ancient Neolithic artifact.