The oldest song in the world

Is this not incredible? I wonder how successful future archeologists will be, recreating “Baby Got Back”:

In the early 1950s, archaeologists unearthed several clay tablets from the 14th century B.C.E.. Found, WFMU tells us, “in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit,” these tablets “contained cuneiform signs in the hurrian language,” which turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever discovered, a 3,400 year-old cult hymn. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, produced the interpretation above in 1972. (She describes how she arrived at the musical notation—in some technical detail—in this interview.) Since her initial publications in the 60s on the ancient Sumerian tablets and the musical theory found within, other scholars of the ancient world have published their own versions.

The piece, writes Richard Fink in a 1988 Archeologia Musicalis article, confirms a theory that “the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago.” This, Fink tells us, “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.” Kilmer’s colleague Richard Crocker claims that the discovery “revolutionized the whole concept of the origin of western music.” So, academic debates aside, what does the oldest song in the world sound like? Listen to a midi version below and hear it for yourself. Doubtless, the midi keyboard was not the Sumerians instrument of choice, but it suffices to give us a sense of this strange composition, though the rhythm of the piece is only a guess.

2 thoughts on “The oldest song in the world

  1. Amazing!
    It seems pretty sophistcated.
    I’m guessing that there are even older ones waiting to be discovered.

  2. Fascinating. Haunting. Interpreting meaning from a dead language is, of course, problematic. Music an order of magnitude more difficult, I would think. But one thing I’m very willing to bet. This isn’t the oldest song in the world. Music, rhythmic melodic expression is as old as humanity. That thrill that brings tears out of nowhere while listening to music didn’t come about a few thousand years ago. It evolved from the dimmest reach of our species.

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