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Hear the sound of a seashell horn after 18,000 years

As a result of new research published Wednesday, after more than 17,000 years of silence and decades neglected in a French museum, a shell fashioned into a horn by our prehistoric ancestors was played again.

Hear the sound of a seashell horn after 18,000 years
11.02.2021 11:14

A large conch shell overlooked in a museum for decades is now thought to be the oldest known seashell instrument – and it still works, producing a deep, plaintive bleat, like a foghorn from the distant past.

Scientists believe the ancient conch, from a species of large sea snail still present in the Atlantic and North Sea, is the oldest wind instrument of its type yet found.

The researchers estimate it to be around 18,000 years old. 

Archaeologists from the University of Toulouse recently took a fresh look and determined it had been modified thousands of years ago to serve as a wind instrument. They invited a French horn player to play it.

Scientists initially thought it bore no trace of human modification, assuming it was a type of ceremonial drinking cup.It was taken to the Museum of Natural History in Toulouse and forgotten.

The latest discovery was made after a recent inventory at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse. The researchers noticed some unusual holes in the shell. 

“The intensity produced is amazing,” said co-author Philippe Walter, director of the laboratory of molecular and structural archaeology at Sorbonne University.

“You can imagine what can happen at the entrance of the cave, or inside a cave, with this very strong sound.”

Using a 3D replica, the archaeologists plan to continue studying the horn’s range of notes. Tosello said he hopes to hear the ancient instrument played inside the cave where it was found.

“It’s amazing when there’s an object forgotten somewhere, and suddenly it comes again into the light,” he said.