A horn made from a conch shell over 17,000 years ago has blasted out musical notes. The conch shell that was found in a hunter-gatherer cave in southern France 1931 by archaeologists. They speculated that the cave’s past occupants had used the shell as a ceremonial cup for shared drinks, and that a hole in its tip was just accidental damage.
The dot-like markings inside the shell match the artwork on the walls of the Marsoulas cave in the Pyrenees where the artefact was unearthed in 1931.
“The research they did on the painting and pigments within the shell lead me to believe that, yeah, this is probably an instrument and was probably used to make music,” says Daniel Adler, a University of Connecticut archaeologist who has written about the deep history of music.
“This establishes a strong link between the music played with the conch and the images, the representations, on the walls,” explained Gilles Tosello from the University of Toulouse. “To our knowledge this is the first time we can put in evidence a relationship between music and cave art in European pre-history.”
This horn isn’t the oldest known musical instrument. Some flutes made from bird bones and mammoth tusks go back about 40,000 years. Still, the ancient conch shell is a unique find.