Lincolnshire’s First Song

Recently the Layers of History team has been working on the digital reconstruction of the prehistoric Cursus monument at Harlaxton and, as part of the process, the question of ancient music came up. Now, there are no recordings of prehistoric music available, and the discussion centred on modern bands such as Heilung. But discussions like these prompt archaeologists to do research and ask questions of the sparse evidence we have of the prehistoric period in Lincolnshire.

The oldest instrument found in Britain is a bronze carnyx (large horn) found in Scotland. The picture here is thought to depict the carnyx. Older musical instruments have been found in Europe such as bone pipes found in Germany which date back some forty to fifty thousand years. So far we have not found any ancient musical instruments in Lincolnshire.

The main reason for this is that evidence we have for prehistoric people in Lincolnshire largely comes in the form of landscape features such as barrows and henges. Settlement evidence is much more unusual and often inaccessible due to its depth. Norfolk’s Bronze age settlement at Must Farm is buried below some six metres of silt and clay. Deep excavations like that are not a normal part of working life in Lincolnshire.

But we know from anthropological studies that music is present in every human population in the world. So, we can easily believe that our ancient ancestors made music, but we can only speculate about what form it took. So, just for a moment, let us speculate.

Our early ancestors lived in the landscape that we recognise. When you stand on their ancient monuments, away from traffic and aeroplanes, you hear the natural sounds of Lincolnshire. Things like bird song, the barking of deer, the low calls of cattle. Then there are the sounds of the wind in the grass and trees, the sound of rain. Did you, as a child, hear the call of a bird and attempt to answer it? I did. From the mimicking of sounds, comes variation and improvisation, using the very first instrument humans were ever given – the voice. Singing is a comfort, it can aid concentration, it can also express feelings and tell stories.

So, we may not have found the first made instruments in Lincolnshire, but our ancient ancestors would have had the same musical inclinations as anyone else. They heard the music of our landscape and replied. So, maybe next time you are out in the countryside and all seems quiet, you can listen to the first music that our ancestors heard, and maybe even think about how you would reply.

Of course, having raised the question of Lincolnshire’s first song, we will inevitably set people wondering about Lincolnshire’s first dance. But that, as they say, is another story.