Ancient Harmonies: Scientists Resurrect 3,000-Year-Old Trumpet, Give the Old Girl a Whirl

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…And discover that 3,000-year-old music kind of stinks. Then again, in their defense, the recently rediscovered conch shells can only play a couple notes.

A group of archaeologists unearthed 20 marine shell trumpets in 2001, complete with etched symbols and well-formed mouthpieces. But only recently have they been played, some 3,000 years after they were made in Peru.

Scientists say the shells were found at pre-Incan religious sites and most likely used in religious ceremonies. (They certainly weren’t participating in three-part harmony or counterpoint.) The scientists handed over a marine trumpet to an expert shell musician (we didn’t know they existed either) and recorded their sounds through four tiny microphones placed inside the player’s mouth as well as on the shell itself. That allowed the scientists to fully understand how the conch’s interior worked without sawing it in half.

One of the sweetest aspects of the stone chamber where the conches were found is that while they were played, the drone would’ve sounded like it was coming from many directions and could have been used to create a sense of confusion. Even though the droning sounds are bit weird for our more modern ears, they’re still pretty cool to hear. Listen to them here and here.