Listen to the oldest melody known to humans
In the 1950s, a Hurrian Hymn was discovered on a clay tablet, giving us the oldest melody known to man – and it still holds up.
Regardless of the society or culture, there are a few things that are truly universal. Oceans and mountains may separate us, but some things transcend those barriers – like music.
It’s impossible to say exactly when humans first began to dabble with music. Archaeologists have uncovered instruments dating back more than 40,000 years, and it probably goes back further – much further. Before there were instruments there was singing. Before there were words to sing, there was humming. Before there was humming, there was grunting in tune. Music is as old as humanity itself.
In the 1950s, a group of archaeologists discovered a clay tablet (pictured on the right) in Ugarit, modern day-Syria, containing the oldest melody still in existence. There were thousands of songs and melodies written before this one, but none have survived for us to listen to. The hymn is dedicated to the Hurrian goddess of orchards, Nikkal, and is very specific on how it is meant to be played. That means modern musicians can play it exactly as it was meant to be heard when it was written more than 3,400 years ago.
The song is strangely familiar. The tempo is a little odd, but replace the primitive sounding lyre with modern stringed instrument or instruments, toss a few drums in there with a bass, and the song wouldn’t be out of place on a today’s radio stations. If anything, it has a bit of an eastern flair to it, but that’s subjective.
While the melody isn’t that unusual, the current system for writing music was discovered around 1,000 years ago, or roughly 2,400 years after the hymm was captured on the clay tablet. Instead of the modern system with notes on a scale, the tablet was more akin to a set of instructions than a traditional musical score. It emphasizes the intervals and tuning, and was based around a “heptatonic diatonic scale.”
There are also lyrics, but they are difficult to translate. A non-precise translation captured by classicfm.com reads:
Once I have endeared the deity, she will love me in her heart,
the offer I bring may wholly cover my sin,
bringing sesame oil may work on my behalf in awe may I
You can hear the recreation below, minus the lyrics. Check it out.