Hear the World’s Oldest Known Song, “Hurrian Hymn No. 6” Written 3,400 Years Ago

Do you like old timey music?


You can’t get more old timey than Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6, which was dis­cov­ered on a clay tablet in the ancient Syr­i­an port city of Ugar­it in the 1950s, and is over 3400 year old.

Actu­al­ly, you can — a sim­i­lar tablet mak­ing ref­er­ence to Lip­it-Ishtar, a hymn glo­ri­fy­ing the 5th king of the First Dynasty of Isin, in what is now Iraq, is old­er by some 600 years, but as CMUSE reports, it “con­tains lit­tle more than tun­ing instruc­tions for the lyre.”

Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 offers meati­er con­tent, and unlike five oth­er tablets dis­cov­ered in the same loca­tion, is suf­fi­cient­ly well pre­served to allow arche­ol­o­gists, and oth­ers, to take a crack at recon­struct­ing its song, though it was by no means easy.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of Assyri­ol­o­gy Anne Kilmer spent 15 years research­ing the tablet, before tran­scrib­ing it into mod­ern musi­cal nota­tion in 1972.

Hers is one of sev­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions YouTu­ber hochela­ga sam­ples in the above video.

While the orig­i­nal tablet gives spe­cif­ic details on how the musi­cian should place their fin­gers on the lyre, oth­er ele­ments, like tun­ing or how long notes should be held, are absent, giv­ing mod­ern arrangers some room for cre­ativ­i­ty.

Below archaeo­mu­si­col­o­gist Richard Dum­b­rill explains his inter­pre­ta­tion from 1998, in which vocal­ist Lara Jokhad­er assumes the part of a young woman pri­vate­ly appeal­ing to the god­dess Nikkal to make her fer­tile:

Here’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly love­ly clas­si­cal gui­tar spin, cour­tesy of Syr­i­an musi­col­o­gist Raoul Vitale and com­pos­er Feras Rada

And a haunt­ing piano ver­sion, by Syr­i­an-Amer­i­can com­pos­er Malek Jan­dali, founder of Pianos for Peace:

And who can resist a chance to hear Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 on a repli­ca of an ancient lyre by “new ances­tral” com­pos­er Michael Levy, who con­sid­ers it his musi­cal mis­sion to “open a por­tal to a time that has been all but for­got­ten:”

 I dream to rekin­dle the very spir­it of our ancient ances­tors. To cap­ture, for just a few moments, a time when peo­ple imag­ined the fab­ric of the uni­verse was woven from har­monies and notes. To lux­u­ri­ate in a gen­tler time when the fragili­ty of life was tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed and its every action was per­formed in the almighty sense of awe felt for the ancient gods.

Samu­rai Gui­tarist Steve Onotera chan­nels the mys­tery of antiq­ui­ty too, by com­bin­ing Dr. Dumbrill’s melody with Dr. Kilmer’s, try­ing and dis­card­ing a num­ber of approach­es — syn­th­wave, lo-fi hip hop, reg­gae dub (“an absolute dis­as­ter”) — before decid­ing it was best ren­dered as a solo for his Fend­er elec­tric.

Ama­ranth Pub­lish­ing has sev­er­al MIDI files of Hur­ri­an Hymn No 6, includ­ing Dr. Kilmer’s, that you can down­load for free here.

Open them in the music nota­tion soft­ware pro­gram of your choice, and should it please the god­dess, per­haps yours will be the next inter­pre­ta­tion of Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 to be fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

The Evo­lu­tion of Music: 40,000 Years of Music His­to­ry Cov­ered in 8 Min­utes

Watch an Archae­ol­o­gist Play the “Litho­phone,” a Pre­his­toric Instru­ment That Let Ancient Musi­cians Play Real Clas­sic Rock

A Mod­ern Drum­mer Plays a Rock Gong, a Per­cus­sion Instru­ment from Pre­his­toric Times

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (5)
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  • Tina says:

    That is ONLY to false god(s),
    Not to Jeho­vah God!
    Noth­ing real­ly to be inter­est­ed by for Chris­tians !

  • wow says:

    Noth­ing to be inter­est­ed in? It’s the old­est record­ed music in human his­to­ry.

    Chris­tians are as blind as always. Turn­ing off their brains and cov­er­ing their ears.

  • Dan says:

    Don’t write all Chris­tians like that. OP was unrea­son­able, but they are a minor­i­ty. His­to­ry is his­to­ry, and his­to­ry is inter­est­ing regard­less of reli­gion.

  • Trish Lockard says:

    Tina, I tru­ly hope you are a troll just try­ing to get a rise out of intel­li­gent, sen­si­ble peo­ple. Sure­ly, you can’t real­ly be this nar­row­mind­ed and unso­phis­ti­cat­ed. That would be ter­ri­fy­ing.

  • AP says:

    The “Chris­t­ian” Jeho­vah is a god of man-made false­hoods born out of rev­er­ence for pre­vi­ous works, spoiled into vio­lent jeal­ousy. The con­trol it once wrought over the sim­ple is end­ing, despite inten­tions to sow divi­sions; all that will remain of it in time is some­thing the sur­vivors won’t val­ue at all.

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