Ancient seashell resonates after 18,000 years

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Written by SciTechNerds

February 11, 2021

Virtually 80 years after its discovery, a big shell from the ornate Marsoulas Cave within the Pyrenees has been studied by a multidisciplinary workforce from the CNRS, the Muséum de Toulouse, the Université Toulouse — Jean Jaurès and the Musée du quai Branly — Jacques-Chirac (1): it’s believed to be the oldest wind instrument of its sort. Scientists reveal the way it sounds in a examine printed within the journal Science Advances on 10th February 2021.

The Marsoulas Cave, between Haute-Garonne and Ariège, was the primary adorned cave to be discovered within the Pyrenees. Found in 1897, the cave bears witness to the start of the Magdalenian (2) tradition on this area, on the finish of the Final Glacial Most. Throughout a list of the fabric from the archaeological excavations, most of which is saved within the Muséum de Toulouse, scientists examined a big Charonia lampas (sea snail) shell, which had been largely missed when found in 1931.

The tip of the shell is damaged, forming a 3.5 cm diameter opening. As that is the toughest a part of the shell, the break is clearly not unintentional. On the reverse finish, the shell opening exhibits traces of retouching (chopping) and a tomography scan has revealed that one of many first coils is perforated. Lastly, the shell has been adorned with a pink pigment (hematite), attribute of the Marsoulas Cave, which signifies its standing as a symbolic object.

To substantiate the speculation that this conch was used to provide sounds, scientists enlisted the assistance of a horn participant, who managed to provide three sounds near the notes C, C-sharp and D. Because the opening was irregular and coated with an natural coating (3), the researchers assume {that a} mouthpiece was additionally hooked up, as is the case for more moderen conches in assortment of the Musée du quai Branly — Jacques Chirac. 3D impressions of the conch will allow this result in be explored and confirm whether or not it may be used to provide different notes.

The primary carbon-14 relationship of the cave, carried out on a chunk of charcoal and a fraction of bear bone from the identical archaeological stage because the shell, supplied a date of round 18,000 years. This makes the Marsoulas conch the oldest wind instrument of its sort: to this point, solely flutes have been found in earlier European Higher Palaeolithic contexts; the conches discovered outdoors Europe are way more latest.

Along with immersing us within the sounds produced by our Magdalenian ancestors, this shell reinforces the concept of exchanges between the Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast, greater than 200 kilometres away.

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