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Listen to 3,400-Year-Old Sumerian Music

Clay tablets from 3,400 years ago contain a cult hymn.

The “world’s oldest song,” a Sumerian hymn translated from a clay tablet, can be heard from a recording made in the 1950s, when the tablets were first discovered in the ancient Amorite city of Ugarit. (See YouTube video of the music on continuation page.)
According to Dr. Heather Lynn: Sumerian Music: Listen to the World's Oldest Song: "These clay tablets date to approximately 1400 BCE, making the songs the oldest found so far. They are Hurrian songs that include a 3,400 year-old cult hymn called Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, or A Zaluzi to the Gods. The hymn is known to archaeologists as simply, h.6, and is of an unknown composer(s).

Nikkal, or Nikkal-wa-Ib, was a goddess of Ugarit/Canaan and later Phoenicia. Her Sumerian equivalent is the goddess Ningal, the mother of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Nikkal was the goddess of orchards, whose name derives from Akkadian/West Semitic "´Ilat ´Inbi" meaning "Goddess of Fruit.”

In the sixties, Anne Kilmer, a professor of Assyriology at the University of California, interpreted the musical notation using mathematic calculations. According to Professor Kilmer, the tablets found were primarily lists of numbers for mathematical operations, along with instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed sammûm, a type of lyre. Once Professor Kilmer was able to understand the mathematical function of the coefficient numbers, researchers were able to conclude that the tablets were, indeed, related to numbers and not just a coincidence. From there, they were able to translate the music. "


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