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Bringing Bronze Age music back to life

posted 10 September 2015 at 12:11:27

A Bronze Age artefact recovered from an Irish bog in the early 20th century was originally thought to be part of a spear.  Mis-classed as a 'spearbutt', the 100BC to 200AD artefact has recently been re-identified as the mouthpiece of an ancient horn. Now, 3D printing has allowed the scientist who made the discovery to replicate the fragile mouthpiece and, rather than the brash noise the horn was believed to have made, produce rich musical tones from the instrument, pretty much as it would originally have sounded. 3D printing is increasingly being used in the fields of archaeology and paleontology, as it allows casts to be made of fragile artefacts, which can then be handled without fear of breakage.

Canberra-based archaeologist and Ph.D student Billy Ó Foghlú scanned the spearbutt and created a 3D model, which was then turned into a mould and cast in bronze (shown above left, next to modern brass instrument mouthpieces). The mouthpiece was fitted to a 3D replica of a two-metre long Bronze Age horn and hey presto – sweet music was made for the first time in centuries. "Suddenly the instrument came to life," said Ó Foghlú. "These horns were not just hunting horns or noisemakers. They were very carefully constructed and repaired; they were played for hours. Music clearly had a very significant role in the culture." It is believed that few horns have been found with mouthpieces because the horns were dismantled when their owners died.
You can find out more about Ó Foghlú's research at

Image: © Stuart Hay, ANU