A group of French researchers published their study of a conch shell from the Upper Paleolithic period based on an assumption that it was used as a musical instrument. The article includes a sound sample gained by blowing into it—the first such sample published.
The conch shell in question, a Charonia lampas—a handsome marine mollusk—was found already in 1931 at the cave of Marsoulas, which is a so-called decorated cave. The shell is dated to roughly 16,000 BCE. And, interestingly, the shell was not only modified—presumably to make it fit a human mouth more easily—but also decorated with traces of colors and engravings.
The color is mostly found in fingerprint-sized and -shaped red dots on the internal surface of the shell. They are similar to motifs present on the cave walls, including a bison covered with a layer of red dots (seen in the background of the image above).
Aren’t the dot decorations fascinating? Apparently, similar conch shells have been used around the world as musical instruments in later periods, with similar modifications. Also, the oldest known flutes discovered thus far come from earlier paleolithic periods, roughly 40,000-20,000 years BCE, so the the concept of horn or flute should have been known. It certainly would make sense, then, that this shell was a horn.
You can hear the sound by downloading an audio file attached to the article.
Fritz, C. et al. “First record of the sound produced by the oldest Upper Paleolithic seashell horn” in Science Advances, Vol 7, Issue 7 (10 February 2021). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abe9510
Image by G. Tosello via Science Advances
An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.