Tablet: Musical Staff


This is the oldest known musical staff. It was transcribed in cuneiform writing on the lower part of this tablet, under the double line. The six-line text in the Akkadian language gives the names of the intervals followed by a number. At present, no one is really sure about how these numbers should be interpreted or how they might be transposed onto a modern musical staff. Consequently, it is impossible to play the melody that has been transmitted to us in clay. The four-line inscription on the upper part consists of the words to a hymn that makes reference to the gods. This is therefore a complete text, with both words and music.

While Hurrian hymn pre-dates several other surviving early works of music (e.g., the Seikilos epitaph and the Delphic Hymns) by a millennium, its transcription remains controversial. Duchesne-Guillemin’s reconstruction may be heard at the Urkesh webpage, though this is only one of at least five “rival decipherments of the notation, each yielding entirely different results”.

Backside of the tablet

  • Excavated from: RAS SHAMRA, ANCIENT UGARIT

  • Date: 1400 B.C

  • Material: Terra cotta 

  • Item Dimensions: 17 x 6.3 x 2.5 cm 

  • Archaeological Mission:

  • National Museum Of Damascus (2011) -Inv Number : DAMASCUS 3916

Excavation Site Location

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