In southern Vietnam, researchers discovered and investigated archaeological evidence of an ancient stringed musical instrument made of deer antlers.
The artifact, according to lead researcher and Ph.D. student Fredeliza Campos of The Australian National University (ANU), is at least 2,000 years old, dating from Vietnam’s pre-Óc Eo culture along the Mekong River.
“This stringed instrument, or chordophone, is one of the earliest examples of its kind in Southeast Asia,” Ms. Campos explained.
“It bridges the gap between the region’s earliest known musical instruments—lithophones or stone percussion plates—and more modern instruments.”
“This instrument would’ve been roughly 35cm long and featured a hole at one end for a peg, which would’ve been important for tuning. It also appeared to have a bridge to support the string.”
Ms. Campos and her collaborators, Vương Thu Hồng from Vietnam’s Long An Museum and Jennifer Hull from ANU, examined over 600 bone artifacts.
“We couldn’t locate anything remotely similar, both in size and in the form of the deer antler,” Ms. Hull said. “This also indicates that experts who are probably musicians made the objects.”
The objects were discovered in the Gò Ô Chùa archaeological site in Long An province, Southern Vietnam. Three similar bronze bells, most likely from a burial, were also discovered.
It is unknown how the instrument was played or what sound it produced, but Ms. Campos believes the procedures were comparable to those used by current Vietnamese musical instruments such as the K’ný.
“The K’ný is a single string bowed instrument that is operated entirely by the player’s mouth, which also acts as a resonator. It may produce a vast range of sounds and tones, well beyond the chromatic scale commonly heard on a piano “Ms. Campos added.
The antler used to make the instrument was most likely obtained from the Sambar deer, also known as the Indian hog deer, which is native to mainland Southeast Asia.
Source: Fredeliza Z. Campos et al, In search of a musical past: evidence for early chordophones from Vietnam, Antiquity (2023). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2022.170