Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ancient Harps and History

The Good Old Harp

Why do our eyes always light up when we have a chance to see photos or hear a the sound on a replica of an ancient harp?  We have our harps, and we are happy with them; isn't that enough?  Why do we care that the ancestors of modern harps were first discovered in caves and tombs in Ur, Sumer, Mesopotamia around 3500 BCE.    Click on Ancient Harp Demo on the right --->>>


To digress a little, where was Ur?   Mesopotamia means “land between rivers.”   Those rivers are the Tigris and Euphrates.  Mesopotamia included those two rivers and what today is known as Iraq, Kuwait, parts of Syria, Turday and Iran.  Ur was a major city between the southern end of the Tigris and Euphrates.   It was once the largest city in the world. This area was considered “the cradle of Civilization.”       

Although Ur was once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf, the coastline has shifted, and what remains of the city is now inland, south of the Euphrates on its right bank. Today you would find a Ziggurat and a few other excavated ruins. Can you imagine finding harps there?

Ur Ruins with ziggurat
Iraq harps

The earliest evidence of the harp in Ancient Egypt was around 2500 - 3000 BC. There are a lot of wall paintings from Egyptian tombs showing harps.  See the link at the right.  They were shaped liked bows or, they were angular and had very few strings. Because they lacked a column, the harps   could not support much string tension. 

Egyptian harp 1390-12985 BCE

Bow Harp

By the way, for a harp to really be a harp, the strings have to be perpendicular to the soundboard.  If the strings are parallel to the soundboard, the instrument would be considered from the zither or lute family. 

So, why do we care?  We care so we don’t have to start learning from the very beginning every time we want to make music.  We would still be playing the Bow Harp if we didn’t see the progress all along the way to the present day harps.    
When you realize how many people have wanted to make music all through the centuries and how many hands have touched wood and carved it into an instrument in an effort to create sound, you know how important music is to a city or a country’s culture. 

The earliest harps and lyres were found in Sumer c, 3500 BCE.   Engravings of harps were found in royal tombs and burial pits  in Ur.
Some of the harp-like instruments were too heavy to carry. Celtic harps tend to resemble small harps of Asian barbarians.  

Harps date back at least three thousand years. There is evidence of instruments shaped like harps in Asia and Siberia.  

2030 BCE - 1980 BCE
Ur was reputed to be the largest city in the world

  450 BCE
Ur is no longer inhabited, possibly due to drought or changing river patterns.