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Vietnam discovers 2,000-year-old stringed instrument

Vietnam discovers 2,000-year-old stringed instrument

Thursday, February 23, 2023, 12:58 GMT+7
Vietnam discovers 2,000-year-old stringed instrument
Reconstruction of the artifact (A) compared with examples of Vietnamese musical instruments: (B) the Bro JoRai; (C) Co Ke; and (D) K'ny. Image credit: F Z Campos et al/Antiquity Journal

Researchers have found a 2,000-year-old insturmented crafted from a deer antler in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, one of the earliest examples of a stringed instrument ever found in Southeast Asia.

Discovered along the Mekong River in southern Vietnam, the 2,000-year-old instrument resembles a single-stringed harp and may have been an ancestor to the complex musical instruments people still plucked today in Vietnam, according to UK-based science website IFLScience.

The artifact consists of a 35-centimeter piece of deer antler with a hole at one end for a peg, which was likely used to tune the string.

The antler most likely came from a Sambar deer or an Indian hog deer, two species native to mainland Southeast Asia.

While the string seems to have eroded away long ago, the instrument features a bridge that was perhaps used to support the string.

Lead researcher and Ph.D. student Fredeliza Campos from the Australian National University said the artifact is at least 2,000 years old -- dating back to Vietnam’s pre-Oc Eo culture along the Mekong River, which is exceptionally early for this kind of instrument.

How the artifact could have been played. Image credit: F Z Campos.
How the artifact could have been played. Image credit: F Z Campos.

“This stringed instrument, or chordophone, is one of the earliest examples of this type of instrument in Southeast Asia,” Campos said.

To better understand the music cultures of ancient Vietnam, researchers sifted through a catalog of over 600 bone artifacts found in the area.

Their analysis indicates that this fashioned antler corresponds to contemporary Vietnamese musical instruments.

There are three corresponding types of instruments for comparison, including the Bro JoRai of the Ede ethnic people, the Co Ke (‘dan nhi’ or ‘dan co’, a Vietnamese bowed string instrument with two strings found throughout Vietnam), and the K’ny - a single-string bowed instrument that is uniquely controlled by the player’s mouth - of the Jarai ethnic people.

The discovery was published on Tuesday in the peer-reviewed archeology journal Antiquity.

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