Scholar Discovers “Missing Piece” of a Bronze-Age Irish Instument, And Now Can Bust Out Tunes on an Ancient Horn

Scholar Discovers “Missing Piece” of a Bronze-Age Irish Instument, And Now Can Bust Out Tunes on an Ancient Horn


There were a lot of tunes going down in the Bronze Age in Ireland.

Family Name HistoryIt was thought that Irish music entered a sort of “dark age” in the Bronze age, as scant evidence has been found that the Irish sat around cutting out tunes. But now, an archaeologist has discovered that actually there was a lot of musical craic going down. We all just mistook a trumpet mouthpiece as part of a spear. Whoops.


Said archaeologist, Billy Ó Foghlú, from The Australian National University, has 3-D printed a replica of an Iron Age artefact to revive a rich musical culture in ancient Ireland. The artefact may have been a mouthpiece from an iron-age horn and not a spear-butt as previously thought.

When Mr Ó Foghlú used the replica artefact as a mouthpiece, the ancient Irish horn had a richer, more velvety tone. “Suddenly the instrument came to life,” he said.

“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.”

Complex bronze-age and iron-age horns have been found throughout Europe, especially in Scandinavia. However, the lack of mouthpieces in Ireland suggested the Irish music scene had drifted into a musical dark age. Mr Ó Foghlú was convinced mouthpieces had existed in Ireland, and was intrigued by the so-called Conical Spearbutt of Navan.

Although he could not gain access to the original bronze artefact, Mr Ó Foghlú used the exact measurements to produce a replica using 3D-printing and try it out with his own horn.

The addition of a mouthpiece would have given greater comfort and control to ancient horn players, and may have increased the range of their instruments.

However, few mouthpieces have been found. The dearth of them may be explained by evidence that the instruments were ritually dismantled and laid down as offerings when their owner died. “A number of instruments have been found buried in bogs. The ritual killing of an instrument and depositing it in a burial site shows the full significance of it in the culture,” said Ó Foghlú. “Tutankhamen also had trumpets buried with him in Egypt. Contemporary horns were also buried in Scandinavia, Scotland and mainland Europe: they all had integral mouthpieces too.”

So there you go, there was never any break to the craic. We have been busting out the tunes all along.

Hear Billy Ó Foghlú crank up the horn!

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