Archaeology Magazine Part VI

This article exemplifies how the Roman Empire was made strong by its diversity of cultures and people. The idea of engineering roads, that amazing fit which helped spread Roman influence and armies ever outward, may have started with its neighboring tribes by way of Greece. The construction of roads represented the ultimately tool which eventually helped tie all the people it called citizen from the east to the west . It’s an important lesson to remember that while the armies of the past have faded to fantasy these roads still spread across the land.

Archaeology Magazine Part IV

This article is a good example of association and assimilation of people over time rather then the often obliteration model that is used in history to explain the ‘what happened to these people’ question. For even though this household was eventually a casualty of a Roman civil war, the fact that they continued to prosper as a wealthy Etruscan family long after the Romans conquered the region shows the interdependence of the two cultures.

Archaeology Magazine Part III

One of the greatest elements to effect human evolution and progress is climate and environmental geography. The opening image of these ancient ruins surrounded by a now arid environment ( Sechura Desert ), it makes one wonder if it may have been more hospitable when it was built. On the other-hand these ruins lay just outside the modern day city of Lima, which is considered the world’s third largest desert city, and so this area must have maintained a level of abundance that provided for the people that existed in this area after these ruins disappeared under the desert. If so then what gave rise to the population that built its walls and then their disuse six hundred years later? What climatic impacts supported and then undermined their use?

Forty Thousand Years of Musical Tradition

“Here we report the discovery of bone and ivory flutes from the early Aurignacian period of southwestern Germany. These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago.”

“An almost complete flute made out of the bones of griffon vulture was found in 2008 at Hohle Fels, in a cave in Southern Germany.  It has five finger holes, a V-shaped mouthpiece and is 0.3 inches (8 millimetres) wide and was 13 inches (34 centimetres) long when it was whole.

The Hohle Fels lies about 1 km northeast of Schelklingen along the Ach valley. Here on the right slope rise Jurassic limestone cliffs over 20 meters high. The entrance to the Hohle Fels cave is at the foot. A corridor of about 15 meters leads to one of the largest and most impressive subterranean caves of Baden-Württemberg.”

Hohle Fels has only one major cavern and this is a picture of it during a tour. “The flute was found in 12 pieces. The fragments were distributed over a vertical distance of 3 cm over a horizontal area of about 10 x 20 cm. This flute is by far the most complete of all of the musical instruments thus far recovered from the caves of Swabia.”

“These finds demonstrate that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys of southwestern Germany. Most of these flutes are from archaeological contexts containing an abundance of organic and lithic artifacts, hunted fauna, and burnt bone. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the sites played musical instruments in diverse social and cultural contexts and that flutes were discarded with many other forms of occupational debris. In the case of Hohle Fels, the location of the bone flute in a thin archaeological horizon only 70 cm away from a female figurine of similar age suggests that a possible contextual link exists between these two finds.”

And as Erik the Flutemaker said when he tried to remake this ancient flute, “it’s like the first penny whistle.” And here is what the Irish Penny Whistle sounds like forty thousand years later.


Clàrsach or Cláirseach

One of three surviving original Clarsach found in the National Museum of Scotland.

The Clarsach Society

The harp is Scotland’s oldest national instrument. Long before the arrival of the bagpipe it was the mainstay of Gaelic courtly music. The earliest depictions of the instrument can be found on Pictish stones, dating back to the 8th century. It came in two different forms: the earlier Pictish harp, strung with gut or horsehair, and the Gaelic clarsach, strung with wire.

The clarsach was the primary instrument of the Gaelic courts until the introduction of the bagpipe in the 15th century and remained central to Gaelic courtly music until the mid 18th century. It also played a key role in the music of the early Celtic church.

Harpers themselves were a highly trained class of professionals who spent years perfecting their art and were held in esteem second only to that of the clan poet, or filidh. However, this ancient tradition died out following the failure of the Jacobite rebellion and the subsequent destruction of clan society and repression of Gaelic culture. The music was never written down by the harpers themselves and until recently it was believed to be entirely lost.

Attempts were made to revive the instrument in the 19th century using surviving clarsachs, but this was largely abandoned due to lack of information. Instead, miniature versions of the French pedal harp fashionable at the time were manufactured, with gut strings and semi-tone levers for changing key. However, this small “lever harp” was seen mainly as a practice instrument before progressing onto the pedal harp. (It was not unusual for makers to offer a free “practice harp” with every pedal harp ordered!)

Only in the 1970s did fresh research gain new insight into the original instrument. Pioneering players and academics such as Alison Kinnaird and Keith Sanger discovered that some tunes which could be traced back to the harpers still survived in lute, fiddle and piping manuscripts. Since then discoveries of further manuscripts such as the Welsh “Robert Ap Huw” and successful reproductions of early instruments have led to great advances in the understanding of playing techniques and musical styles. Player-researchers such as Ann Heymann and William Taylor have led this field, opening it out so that we can now hear expert performances of authentic repertoire on this ancient instrument.

In the meantime, the upsurge of interest in traditional music in general and the work of players such as Alison Kinnaird, Patsy Seddon and Isobel Mieras (but name but a few) has also led to a revival of the lever harp. It is no longer a “practice harp” but an instrument in its own right, with its own repertoire drawing from both a newfound knowledge of old harp tunes and the contemporary tradition of the fiddle and pipes.

The result is that the tradition of the harp in Scotland today is at its most vibrant since the age of the clan harpers, with old music more readily accessible than ever before and new music being composed all the time.

Rosie Morton