Ancient seashell resonates after 18,000 years


Picture: Reconstruction of the instrument getting played. In the background, a red dotted buffalo decorates the partitions of the Marsoulas Cave identical motifs enhance the instrument.
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Credit: © Carole Fritz et al. 2021 / drawing: Gilles Tosello

Pretty much 80 many years just after its discovery, a substantial shell from the ornate Marsoulas Cave in the Pyrenees has been analyzed by a multidisciplinary group from the CNRS, the Muséum de Toulouse, the Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès and the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques-Chirac (1): it is thought to be the oldest wind instrument of its form. Researchers expose how it appears in a research released in the journal Science Improvements on 10th February 2021.

The Marsoulas Cave, concerning Haute-Garonne and Ariège, was the very first embellished cave to be found in the Pyrenees. Uncovered in 1897, the cave bears witness to the beginning of the Magdalenian (2) tradition in this location, at the end of the Last Glacial Optimum. All through an stock of the material from the archaeological excavations, most of which is held in the Muséum de Toulouse, researchers examined a substantial Charonia lampas (sea snail) shell, which had been mostly neglected when identified in 1931.

The idea of the shell is damaged, forming a 3.5 cm diameter opening. As this is the hardest portion of the shell, the split is evidently not accidental. At the reverse finish, the shell opening reveals traces of retouching (reducing) and a tomography scan has uncovered that a person of the first coils is perforated. Finally, the shell has been embellished with a pink pigment (hematite), characteristic of the Marsoulas Cave, which implies its standing as a symbolic item.

To affirm the hypothesis that this conch was made use of to deliver seems, researchers enlisted the aid of a horn player, who managed to deliver 3 seems shut to the notes C, C-sharp and D. As the opening was irregular and lined with an organic coating (3), the scientists think that a mouthpiece was also connected, as is the scenario for extra recent conches in collection of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. 3D impressions of the conch will help this direct to be explored and confirm whether or not it can be used to create other notes.

The very first carbon-14 relationship of the cave, carried out on a piece of charcoal and a fragment of bear bone from the exact same archaeological degree as the shell, furnished a date of around 18,000 decades. This makes the Marsoulas conch the oldest wind instrument of its type: to date, only flutes have been uncovered in earlier European Upper Palaeolithic contexts the conches found outside Europe are a lot much more new.

In addition to immersing us in the appears produced by our Magdalenian ancestors, this shell reinforces the strategy of exchanges between the Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast, more than 200 kilometres absent.


Further information:&#13

– Listen to the audio of the Marsoulas conch:

– See the 3D model:


(1) The laboratories associated are the Travaux et recherches archéologiques sur les cultures, les espaces et les sociétés (CNRS/Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès/Ministère de la Tradition), the Maison des sciences de l’homme et de la société de Toulouse (CNRS/Université Fédérale de Toulouse) and the Laboratoire d’archéologie moléculaire et structurale (CNRS/Sorbonne Université).&#13

(2) Masking a interval amongst around 21,000 and 14,000 yrs BP, it is characterised by worked animal bones and antlers and intensive exchange networks. The Altamira and Lascaux caves are the most famous illustrations.&#13

(3) As the quantity is minimal, analyses have not been equipped to identify its mother nature.&#13

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