Monday, May 15, 2017

Ireland's Ancient Musical Instruments

Drumbest and Derrynane Horns
National Museum of Ireland
Lough Gara, on the border between Co. Roscommon and Co Sligo, is noted for the number of archaeological artefacts recovered ranging from stone axes to saddle querns and bronze pins to bone needles. Amongst the more unusual finds reported was a bronze trumpet or horn end found on Inch Island and thought to date from 300-200 BC.
The island of Ireland is particularly noted for its collection of ancient musical instruments, covering more than 3000 years from the Late Stone Age through to the Early Medieval Period (4,200 BC – 1,000 AD).  Musical horns were usually found in hoards, occasionally associated with other artefacts. The Dowris hoard, for example, from County Offaly, was discovered in 1832 and included twenty-eight horns as well as axes, swords, spearheads, and hammered bronze buckets and cauldrons. This hoard is thought to date from the seventh century BC. Hoards tend to be located near burial mounds and ancient earthworks or under lakes and bogland that was formerly under water.
During the Late Bronze Age, there were two main types of horn in Ireland. One type was blown from the end and the other from a side mouthpiece. End-blown horns are mainly found in the southwest of the country, while the side-blown horns have a more even distribution. These were popular instruments and to-date over 122 have been discovered in Ireland, which represents over half the total number of Bronze Age horns that have so far been found in Europe and the Middle East. Some of the manuscripts the early missionaries brought to the continent contained images of trumpets and horns.
Loughnashade Trumpet
1st Century BC
The Loughnashade trumpet is one of the finest surviving horns of the European Iron Age. It was discovered during drainage works at the site of a former lake in Co. Armagh. Three other horns, which have since been lost, and a collection of human skulls and bones, were recovered from the same location.  Archaeologists believe this may have been a of ritual deposition. The trumpet dates from about the 1st century BC and measures 1.86 m in length. It is made from curved and rivetted sheets of bronze. The decorative flange at the end of the instrument is covered in an abstract floral design.
The Loch Erne horn was discovered during drainage work on the River Erne in the townland of Coolnashanton four miles south of Enniskillen in Co. Fermanagh. The wooden horn hooped with metal bands is conical, 58cm long with a metal mouthpiece.  There is an image of two of these horns being played as part of an early Medieval musical group in the Hiberno-Saxon Canterbury Psalter of the 8th century AD.
The Mayophone or ‘guth cuilce’ is undoubtedly the most unusual of all the Irish prehistoric instruments.   The original was found in a bog during turf cutting in the townland of Bekan near Knock, Co. Mayo in 1791 and is now preserved in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin. This item has been radiocarbon dated to the Early Medieval Period (7th–8th century A.D.) 
Originally a solid piece of wood, it was split from end to end and each of the pieces was then hollowed or grooved on the inside. It was tapered and when joined again, the grooves formed a circular and conical hole through the whole length resembling that of a trumpet or horn. The two pieces were bound together on the outside by a long piece of thin brass, about an inch and a quarter wide, wrapped around them in a spiral from one end to the other. The Bekan horn is 192 cm long and made from yew. The sounding end of the instrument was originally about 8 cm in diameter.
Wicklow Pipes (c 2,120-2,085 BC)
In 2003 six carefully worked wooden pipes were recovered during an archaeological excavation at Greystones, Co. Wicklow. This discovery represents the world’s oldest surviving wooden musical instrument and has been dated to the Early Bronze Age (c. 2,120-2,085 BC). Formed out of yew wood, the pipes were found lying side by side, in descending order and ranged in size from 57cm to 29 cm long, although not all were complete. The pipes had been hollowed out, making the internal diameters approximately 2 cm across. However, there was no evidence for finger holes.
Wicklow Pipes
In early 2005, the first composition for Wicklow pipes, double bass and marimba, by Michael Holohan was performed as part of a concert in Drogheda, Co. Louth.   The early age of these pipes and the complexity of the design and manufacturing involved, place them in the forefront of recent music archaeological finds.
Researchers have discovered archaeological evidence of musical instruments in many parts of the world. The oldest musical instruments, usually bone flutes, have been found in deep caves in France and Germany and originate from the same time and near the first examples of cave art. Music has a long association with war and conquest. Some of the oldest visual images depicting war include horns, pipes, and drums.
World's Oldest Flute,
Geissenkloesterle, Germany

What are believed to be the oldest-known musical instruments in the world are flutes, made from bird bone and mammoth ivory, and come from a cave in Geissenkloesterle, southern Germany. This cave also contains early evidence for the occupation of Europe by modern humans - Homo sapiens. Scientists used carbon dating to show that the flutes were between 42,000 and 43,000 years old. Geissenkloesterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery, and musical instruments.
Ireland is noted for its collection of ancient musical instruments spanning more than 4,000 years, including 28 horns from the Dowris hoard, the Mayophone and Wicklow pipes. The oldest-known musical instruments in the world are flutes made from bird bone and mammoth ivory found in southern Germany, which are between 42,000 and 43,000 years old. Should you visit Lough Gara, listen carefully and, perhaps, you may hear that ancient horn echoing down the ages?

For further information please see:
John M. Coles (1967) Some Irish Horns of the Late Bronze Age, in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 97, No. 2

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