Ancient horn plays music after 17,000 years

Tuneful: A modern musician managed to play three different notes on the ancient horn.

Is music our greatest invention? Experts have produced three notes on an ancient shell once used as a musical instrument. It is the first time the horn has been played for 17,000 years.

What’s happening

In 1931, archaeologists working in France found an ancient conch in a cave. The shell was decorated in beautiful red paint.

They saved it, thinking it was a special cup. Now, nearly 100 years later, modern scientists have proved them wrong. The shell is not for drinking. It is a musical instrument.

Find out more

Humans have been fascinated by shells for thousands of years. Over the centuries, we have used them as magical objects, drinking cups – and for making music.

This shell is one of the oldest “man-made” conches ever found. The paint on the shell matches cave paintings around 18,000 years old.

Archaeologist Carole Fritz led the team studying the shell. Using high-tech equipment, they found it was not a cup at all. It had a mouthpiece and holes for changing notes.

They invited a professional French horn player to come and test out the shell. By blowing through the mouthpiece, the musician made sounds close to the notes C, C sharp and D.

Carole said hearing it for the first time made her feel “big emotion”.

Is music our greatest invention?

Some say…

Yes! Music is a universal language. It can be enjoyed by all people around the world. It can travel across continents – and across time. It brings us closer with people from history. Listening to music can cheer us up. It can help us through difficult times. It can even inspire us to get active. It is the best thing humans have ever made.

Others think…

No. Music is not really an invention. It is something we are born with. The best inventions are the things that have changed life for the better. They are things like trains or penicillin. And what about the internet? Without that, finding things out and communicating would be more difficult – plus, we wouldn’t even be able to stream music!

You Decide

  1. Could you live without ever hearing music again?


  1. You have been stranded on a desert island and can only have three songs to listen to until you are saved. Make a list of the ones you would pick.

Some People Say...

“Music is life itself.”

Louis Armstrong, American jazz trumpeter and singer

What do you think?

Word Watch

A very large sea snail with a thick spiral shell. It is also the name of the shell itself, which people collect once empty.
Special cup
The theory was based on the fact that lots of ancient communities used the shells as goblets for special religious and magical ceremonies.
The shells themselves are natural, but people can change them by drilling into them or adding bits on. In this case, humans added a mouthpiece.
Experts used a method called carbon dating, which uses the carbon in objects to work out how old they are.
French horn
A circular brass instrument with a large opening at the end. When uncoiled, the horn is a piece of metal around four metres long.
The first true antibiotic. It cures infections. It was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. During WW2, it saved the lives of almost one in seven soldiers wounded in battle.

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