Origin of Music

“Music is ancient” it is spread throughout history before men lived in caves, through ancient civilizations and into contemporary times, Music is woven seamlessly into the features of human culture. But the origin of music spans farther than what history has been able to keep record of, archeological findings have unearthed musical instruments that date over 40,000 years old from which suggests that they would have been earlier musical activities and artifacts yet reflected in archaeological records.

Various scholars over the years have put in context in the definition of music, Jeremy Montagu of the university of oxford describes it as “sound that conveys emotion” a mother humming to calm her baby could pass for music using this definition, and this simple music probably predates speech, so where do we draw the line between music and speech in this definition? You might think that rhythm, pattern and controlling pitch are important in music, but these things can also apply when someone recites a sonnet or speaks with heightened emotion, Montagu concludes that “each one of us in our way can say ‘yes, this is music and ‘No, this is speech’” . Morealso, it is seen to be the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity (Merriam Webster ).

In all probability, music has played an important role in the lifecycle of humans perhaps even before we could speak.
Significant evidence has been discovered that very early man developed primitive flutes from animal bones, struck surfaces and used stones and wood as instruments. Voice would have been the first and most natural means of expression in our distant ancestors, used to bond socially or comfort a sleepless child. It is from these humble beginnings that the music we enjoy today evolved. But they is no concise origin of music as it dates to an era eons before recorded history, the origin of music is often linked with the origin of language and this connection has been subjected to serious debate with the principal source of contention being whether music started as a type of proto-language and a product of adaptation that led to language or it’s a byproduct of some other functional adaptation in evolution.

Predominantly, with music viewed as a cultural product with no biological traits in its manifestation, and vocal music with instrumental use of the body leave no physical traces, thus archaeological record can solely provide evidence of musical instruments, and of only instruments made out of durable material such as ivory, bone and preserved hard wood, the available fossil records dates musical activity to over 40,000 years years ago which the flutes (pipes) uneartherd from the swabian jura in ssouthwestern Germany (which are the oldest recorded musical instruments) were thought to be made. Most of these flutes were made from bird bone (predominantly vulture radius or ulna; also swan bone); a few from mammoth ivory. (see Conard, Malina, & Münzel, 2009; Higham et al., 2012; Morley, 2013). Morealso, since it was around this archaeological period that Cro-Magnon humans arrived in Europe, it appears that they brought the ability to make and use musical artefacts with them from Africa. “I side with the view that musical technology has a much older past, currently (and perhaps indefinitely) hidden from the material record” (Cross, 2012; d’Errico et al., 2003; Lawson & d’Errico, 2002).

With limitations being that many ancient musical styles had been preserved in oral traditions and no tangible fossils and records. Nonetheless, the Hurian Hyymn which is the oldest surviving piece of music was unearthed in the 1950’s inscribed on a clay tablet in cuneiform text(the world’s earliest form of writing). The piece was discovered in Ugarit, now part of modern day Syria, it was composed as an ode to the Hurrian’s Goddess Nikkal. It dates between 1400 and 1200 BCE(12th century BCE) and is well over 3,200 years old. It’s tablets contain the tune and a near complete instruction for how to play the piece on a type of nine stringed lyre, though it’s lyrics are difficult to decipher they have been attempts to do so by various academics and musical experts. One of the most prominent is that of “Dr. Richard Dumbrill”

“(once I have) endeared(the deity) she will Love me in her heart
The offer I bring her may wholly cover my sin,
Bringing sesame oil may work on my behalf
In awe may i…
The sterile may they make fertile.
Grain may they bring forth.
She the wife, will bear(children) to the father.
May she who has not yet borne children bear them.”

Tap link to hear a rendering of the hymn on a lyre https://youtu.be/Tx6v0t5I5SM

We know music is ancient and may have been with us since we first evolved, woven into our culture it has aided in bonding us, as “montagu” iterates in an instance of a mother bonding with their child so it goes in bonding family, groups and connecting society itself, linking people and individual whom whereas would have had solitary lives. This also lets us see that the story of music flows in correlation with that of Man.

Author: Luther Oshoko

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