IIn 1931, archaeologists in southern France discovered a conch shell – then adopted as a drinking vessel – in Marsoulas Cave, known for its long history of protecting ancient humans and providing a host of artifacts. A study was published in Nine decades later Advances in science found that the shell was modified to attach a mouthpiece, indicating that it was most likely used as a horn.
Using advanced imaging techniques, the research team identified all of the areas where the shell had been altered by old people to create the instrument. At 17,000 years old, it is the oldest known mussel horn. Whether the horn was used for communication, religious practices or entertainment is not clear, but Jean-Michel Court, a musicologist at the University of Toulouse, was able to blow it through for the first time in millennia. It can play notes very close to C, C sharp, and D.
Audio: The sound of a musicologist playing the oldest known conch shell. Image: Hypothetical representation of the conch shell used
FRITZ ET AL., SCI ADV7, EABE9510, 2021