The Archaeology of Music


Music has been a staple within many cultures from across the world. We see it in traditions and all different forms of media. But where did it all begin? Archaeologists have failed to find any evidence indicating that musical instruments had been around 40,000 years ago. But this may be due to organic materials like bone and wood decaying and breaking down over time. We can also take into account that singing and clapping can not be traced by physical means. 

There is popular debate about the artifact that holds the title of “oldest musical instrument”. Originally back in 1995, archaeologists had discord the bone of a young cave bear with holes carved into it. Speculation led them to believe that this had previously been used as a flute. However, after further research some believe that the holes may not have been man made but created by hyenas’ teeth from scavenging the bear’s remains. 

Artifact that was once thought to be a flute.

Another musical instrument found is a beautiful lyre found in 1957 at the Eastern cemetery of Ambracia which dates back to the Hellenistic period. According to Greek mythology, it was invented by Hermes. When Apollo discovered that Hermes had stolen his oxen he prosecuted him. While Hermes was running to hide he stepped on a turtle shell. He noticed that the shell amplifies sound, so he created the first ever lyre and gifted it to Apollo to appease him. 

A music lyre from Ambracia.

Music and instruments can be found all over the world and throughout history. It is a form of human expression and can be used to communicate and even improve social relationships. Music is one of the few forms of communication that can transcend language. It has greatly developed over the years and has become one of the most enjoyed art forms.


A music lyre from Ambracia


Further Exploration:

Grave Injustice

Over the years, we have seen how the U.S segregates groups based on race, class, and religion. We can see remains (or lack of remains) of this privileged ideology in burial grounds. 

We witness these episodes of mortuary discrimniation several times throughout history. One example we still can see today is right at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. This cemetery is quite famous for being the resting place of men and women of the armed forces. While visiting this grave site, you can come across multiple sections with the headstones marked “U.S.C.T.”. These initials stood for United States Colored Troops. The people buried in these sections were African-American soldiers who fought beside the American troops in the Civil War, but ultimately were not allowed to be buried next to them. This eventually expanded to include Black military veterans and civilians as well.

We can also see this in the individual case of Sgt. John R. Rice, a former member of the Winnebago tribe, who was killed in combat in Korea.

The officials of the Sioux City Memorial Park Cemetery, Iowa, had stopped his burial. Right before the coffin could be lowered, his family was informed that the ceremony could not go on as “a clause in the sales contract for the cemetery lot reserved burial privileges for Caucasians only.” Only after lawsuits and intervention by President Truman was Sgt. Rice buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. This still left the family insulted and distraught as they battled the system that pushed for “racial whiteness beyond embodied, biological life”.

Cited Works:

Sherman, David. “Grave Matters: Segregation and Racism in U.S. Cemeteries.” The Order of the Good Death, 20 Apr. 2020,

Joint Base Langley-Eustis. “Even in Death, Segregation Is Part of Our History.” Joint Base Langley-Eustis, 3 Apr. 2006,

Further Readings:

Flatbush African Burial Ground