The Oldest Melody Known to Man
Hurrian Cult Hymn
For many years there has been debate on the history of music. Did it begin with animals and nature, mimicked by humans using vocal chords? Did it begin with an accident of some prehistoric person hitting something, creating a pleasing sound? Did it begin between mother and child long before words were formed? When did instruments come in? The oldest instruments discovered are flutes made from animal bones made between 35,000 and 43,000 years ago, depending on the source. Did the makers of these instruments know what they were doing? Did they have melodies and words for which to use the flutes? No one truly knows when and how music began, but a discovery was made in the 1950s that would change the way historians thought about music. In the 1950s archeologist Emmanuel Laroche led an excavation in Ugarit, what is modern-day Ras Shamra, Syria. At this site an amazing discovery was found. Workers found several fragments of clay tablets on which music was inscribed in cuneiform. One of these tablets happened to be nearly complete. At the time, the Seikilos epitaph and Delphic Hymns were believed to be the oldest documented music. However, research on the tablets found in Ugarit showed that they predated the Seikilos epitaph and Delphic Hymns by almost a century, having been created around 1400 BC by a group called the Hurrians, and making the tablet the oldest known music known to man.
The near-complete tablet found in Ugarit, referred to as the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, or simply h.6, was in 3 fragments. When the fragments were placed together and deciphered, it showed something truly amazing in the world of music and human history. The tablet was lyrics for a hymn to a Semitic goddess of orchards, Nikkal. Along with the lyrics were instructions for the singer. Some of the tablets found with h.6 showed instructions for tuning the instrument played with the lyrics, which is believed to be a...
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