How did the oldest wind instrument sound: 18,000 years?

The Marsoulas conch is the oldest wind instrument of its kind. This large ornate seashell was discovered in the Marsoulas cave, between Haute-Garonne and Ariège, in 1897.

Carbon-14 dating of the cave, carried out on a lump of charcoal and a fragment of bear bone of the same archaeological level as the shell, yielded a date of around 18,000 years. And now we can hear what it sounded like.

The shell has been decorated with a red pigment (hematite), characteristic of the Marsoulas Cave, indicating its status as a symbolic object. The tip of the shell is not accidentally broken, forming an opening 3.5 centimeters in diameter. Since the opening was irregular and covered by an organic coating, the researchers surmised that it was also wearing a mouthpiece.

To find out what this instrument might sound like, researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Toulouse Museum, the Toulouse-Jean Jaurès University and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac hired a trumpeter who managed to make it sound with her three sounds close to the notes do, do sharp and re.

To date, flutes have only been discovered in earlier European Upper Paleolithic contexts, and conch shells found outside of Europe are much more recent.

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