Skye dig reveals early string instrument

Archeologists excavating on the Island of Skye, northwest Scotland, think they may have discovered part of the oldest stringed instrument found in western Europe.

The find is only a few centimetres long

The find is only a few centimetres long. Pic Historic Scotland

Dating to more than 2,300 years ago the small burnt wooden fragment is believed to be from a lyre.

Although broken the notches where strings would have been placed are easy to distinguish on the artefact.

Music archaeologist Dr Graeme Lawson studied the fragment which was discovered at High Pasture Cave.

He believes the discovery is a “step change” in the history of music.

“It pushes the history of complex music back more than a thousand years, into our darkest pre-history.

“And not only the history of music but more specifically of song and poetry, because that’s what such instruments were very often used for,” he added.

The earliest known lyres date from about 5,000 years ago, in what is now Iraq.

Cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs Fiona Hyslop said: “This is an incredible find and it clearly demonstrates how our ancestors were using music and ritual in their lives.

“The evidence shows that Skye was a gathering place over generations and that it obviously had an important role to play in the celebration and ritual of life more than 2,000 years ago.”

When fieldwork was completed in 2010 the artefacts were transferred to AOC Archaeology in Loanhead, Edinburgh, for conservation.

The full results of research will be will be presented at the Highland Archaeology Festival seminar in October.

The project was supported by Highland Council, Historic Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland.

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