Music Archaeology, its Meaning and Goals

Music Archaeology (Archaeomusicology, Paleo-Organology, Music Prehistory, etc.), is a cross-disciplinary field of research, operating internationally, which uses methods of both musicology and archaeology. Due to this definition, Music Archaeology has many goals.

One of the most important is the exploration of excavated artefacts that are relevant for the reconstruction of ancient music, such as sound-producing devices, representations of musical scenes and textual evidence. The archaeological analysis and documentation of such artefacts, their dating and description as well as the explanation of find contexts and cultural contexts can shed light on its use and function in everyday life of the past, and can help us to rebuild them - i.e., to construct playable replicas.

To produce music in a broader sense may also mean the investigation of early musical notations and literary sources that are "excavated" in libraries or other hidden places. These results may illuminate how instruments were played or how music was sung. But ultimately what was played in ancient times must remain in the dark of the past, and much fantasy is needed by modern musicians to imagine how melodies and rhythms may have been composed. Strictly speaking, only the sound of the instruments can be revived - these are the possibilities and limits of Music Archaeology.

In the last few years the field has expanded considerably, with the inclusion of neurophysiological, biological, and psychological research. These approaches explore the possible beginnings of sound production by seeking the earliest prerequisites in the evolution of mankind for music making and musical 'understanding'.

At the other end of the continuum, newly published evidence for musical notations and theoretical writings, or new literary and iconographic sources relevant to ancient music, can add to our understanding of mostly vanished music cultures. The observation and integration of ethnographic analogies in recent or contemporary societies may also help us discover long lasting traditions in making music which are comparable to the silent past.

But these researches, though helpful, have shown that Music Archaeology should in the first instance remain a material subject (as described above) and not develop into an "Archaeology of Music", where "archaeology" becomes a synonym for "history".

Nevertheless, as Music Archaeology has developed, a wealth of multifaceted approaches, yielding astonishing results, has revealed that in the life of all societies past and present music has had an enormous range of meaning - the semantics of which, in many cases, remain to be investigated.