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Thursday, January 3, 2013

World’s most ancient ‘Piano’

World’s most ancient ‘Piano’
By Sai Papineni

With Linganna at Hiregudda
5000 years ago, there was a village; probably one of the oldest in South India, inhabited by husbandmen who drove large herds of cattle: some as large as a thousand heads.
It was discovered in 1892 by modern man and was promptly forgotten until a team of researchers from Canada, Europe and Karnataka rediscovered the site very recently in 21st century. The site was well documented by an inter-disciplinary team of scientists:
Nicole Boivin University of Cambridge, Adam Brumm Australian National University, Helen Lewis University College Dublin, Dave Robinson University of Bristol, Ravi Korisettar Karnatak University  - Sensual, material, and technological understanding: exploring prehistoric soundscapes in south India, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 13, 267-294 ) © Royal Anthropological Institute 2007

In layman’s language, what they found was an exuberance of art and symbols, etched on the top of a hillock. These pictures captured clues to the economic and ritual lives of our ancestors who lived here on the slopes of that granite outcrop. 
A school of art called Petroglyphs ... for the common man ‘Rock Art’ would suffice.

My primary object of interest was the marks left by them for their functional usage instead of being pictorial mnemonics or recordings.
These were simple depressions in stone with a matted texture. 

(Keep the volume levels high when you open the file)

The enigma was solved by a resourceful local man, Linganna: He called a boulder in the local vernacular: Bell Rock – ‘Ganta Kallu’.
I noticed a good number of them on a Dolerite boulder adjacent to a natural platform perched high above the hill overlooking the plains below. Probably, it was a vantage for the lookouts and the ‘rock-gong’ was used as a signaling devise.  ‘In those days of yore, with little invasion of automobile and mechanical decibels, the reverberating ‘gong’ of the rock must have been heard across the plains.
In some cultures, percussion played a role in rituals that were intended for shamans to communicate with the supernatural world. Dr Nicole Boivin of the University of Cambridge speculates that this could be the purpose of these stones.

The presence of such gongs was reported from various sites in Africa and Europe: where usually they were slabs of rock which were hit like a drum. Yet the rocks at this site gave characteristic tones akin to musical notes.
I Carried in my hand a quartzite ‘hammer stone’ probably used in flint-knapping  by a primitive workman many thousands of years ago; which came in handy when I came across this huge boulder -  must weigh a few tons - with its edge jutting on to a platform of natural rock like a piano board. The notches were in a row: 12 of them. I ran the hammer-stone, about the size of a cricket ball, on those notches.

And the result:

The piano rock was surrounded by other such markings and contraptions making it surely the oldest such musical ensemble to have survived.


  1. great sounds from an apparently lifeless rock, this specimen should be in a museum for musical history..

  2. The beauty is in its being in-situ ... It is a part of a very complex site ... Pictoral art, music, tool industry and ashmounds going back to 4th millennium BCE. Some good things dont come to you ... You must go searching for them.