Listen To The World's Oldest Song, Dating Back 3,400 Years

Listen To The World's Oldest Song, Dating Back 3,400 Years

Music has existed from time immemorial. We’ve always heard of stories being passed on from one generation to the other using music and song - but we’ve never known much more than that. In the 1950’s, archeologists uncovered several clay tablets in the Hurrian language, dating back to the 14th century BCE in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. Behold - these tablets contained cuneiform signs which were found to be the oldest known piece of music - almost 3,400 years old.

During the excavation, 29 tablets were found but only one could be preserved and interpreted with precision. The ‘Hurrian Songs’ as it is now referred to, “were meant to be played on a kind of lyre. The most complete of the songs is the ‘Hurrian Song to Nikkal’, and scholars have been able to recreate the melody” according to Mental Floss. It is only natural to wonder who Nikkal was - and so we did some digging. She is known to be the Akkadian Goddess of the Orchards, wife of the Moon God, Yarrikh and daughter of the summer God, Khirkhibi.

Excavated Tablet

The hymn confirms a theory that “the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago” writes Richard Fink in a 1988 Archeologia Musicalis article. This “flies in the face of most musicologist’s views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks” as reported on OpenCulture. In 1972 Professor Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, who is a professor of Assyriology at the University of California, developed an interpretation of the song. “’We are able to match the number of syllables in the text of the song with the number of notes indicated by the musical notations. This approach produces harmonies rather than a melody of single notes. But the chances the number of syllables would match the notation numbers without intention are astronomical,” Kilmer said to Daily Mail.

The tablets on which the hymn has been inscribed are located in the National Museum of Damascus. For further reading on the song, and its various interpretations click here.

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