1,700-Year-Old Musical Instrument Found, and It Still Works

The mouth harp was recently discovered in the Altai Mountains region of Russia and still makes music after well over a millennium.

An ancient mouth harp discovered in Russia delighted archaeologists when they confirmed that it could still make a sound.

The instrument was one of five mouth harps discovered by archaeologists at two sites, Chultukov Log 9 and Cheremshanka, in the mountainous Altai Republic region of south-central Russia.

"I myself played on the harp from Cheremshanka," says Andrey Borodovsky, a professor at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He has been researching these instruments for more than 20 years, and says one of the Cheremshanka mouth harps is still capable of making music.

9 Dazzling Discoveries of Ancient Gold Treasure

close
The Bactrian Hoard

Familiar yet exotic, this gold figurine of the Greek goddess of love bears a forehead mark from India. It is part of the fabled 'Bactrian Hoard,' a collection of thousands of 2,000-year-old gold objects excavated from nomad burials in Afghanistan in 1978. Once believed to have been stolen, most of the hoard was re-discovered in a bank vault in Kabul in 2003.

close
Lord of Sipan

An array of gold objects was found in the 1,500-year-old tomb of a Moche warrior-priest known as the Lord of Sipan, including a gold sacrificial knife and a shield crowned with the decapitator god. Archaeologists raced against tomb robbers to recover the find, which was made in Peru in 1987.

close
Tut's Treasures

Howard Carter's 1922 discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen counts among the most important in archaeological history. Among the magnificent artifacts is this 3,300-year old falcon pendant of the god Re-Horakhti, made of gold, carnelian, chalcedony, and colored glass paste.

close
Viking Hoard

Still shrouded in bits of protective cloth, this gold pendant may once have contained a saintly relic. It is part of the Galloway Hoard, a stunning stash of Viking treasure that was buried in Scotland around the 10th century A.D and discovered in Scotland in 2014.

close
El Dorado

The pre-Columbian creators of the Muisca Raft crafted this log boat and its passengers from gold sometime between 600 and 1600 A.D. It is one of the most important archeological pieces ever discovered, and depicts the origin of the El Dorado myth. It was found together with several other gold artifacts in a cave south of Bogotá in 1856.

close
Scythian Gold

This ancient Scythian gold diadem may have graced the head of a wealthy nomad some 2,000 years ago in what is today modern Russia. The Scythians buried their elite in elaborate, gold-filled tombs that were first scientifically excavated under the authority of Russian emperors in the 1800s.

close
Pre-Columbian Treasure

This golden bird, designed to fit on the end of a stick or staff, is likely from the pre-Columbian Sinu culture, which thrived more than a thousand years ago in what is modern-day Colombia. Gold objects such as this started the El Dorado legend, contributing to the Spanish conquest and colonization of much of North and South America.

close
A Pharaoh's Death Mask

The golden funerary mask of Tutankhamun, weighing more than 22 pounds, is possibly the most stunning artifact found inside the pharaoh's tomb. While the tomb was opened in 1923, it took another two years before the mask was discovered, inside the coffin.

close
Golden Chariots

Missing for more than a decade of conflict in Afghanistan and now safe again, this 2,000-year-old turquoise-studded gold buckle, which features Chinese-style canopied chariots, is part of the Bactrian Hoard unearthed in 1978 at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan.

Tap images for captions

The instruments were likely made by craftsmen from the splintered ribs of cows or horses, and they are thought to date back 1,700 years to the period when the Huns and their descendants controlled much of central Asia. The tribes who populated the region at the time were nomadic, spreading across central Asia through modern-day Mongolia, Kazakhstan, northeast China, and southern Russia. The mouth harp that Borodovsky played is about 4.3 inches long and 3.3 inches wide.

The instruments made by the Altai craftsmen differ from other ancient instruments found in central Asia. Craftsmen in Mongolia and the Tuva region of Russia used different materials, like the horns of deer, to make mouth harps. A piece of a mouth harp made from deer horns was also found in southern Siberia about 40 years ago.

Related: Learn About Another Ancient Discovery

While the mouth harps recently found in Russia were crafted and played well over a millennium ago, they seem quite modern compared to the world’s oldest known musical instruments—43,000-year-old flutes made from bird bone and mammoth ivory that were found in a cave in southern Germany.

After playing the mouth harp, Borodovsky says he thinks it sounds like a flageolet, a Renaissance-era instrument similar to a flute. 

PUBLISHED

Follow Us

twitter