Raucous Iron-Age Music Had a Mellow Side

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ph.D. Candidate Sam Holzman

Samuel Holzman, a doctoral student in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, has discovered that Phrygian artifacts contradict descriptions found in Greek and Roman writing. The Phrygians (“Phryg” is pronounced as in refrigerator) lived in central Turkey from about 1000 B.C. through the Roman period. Plato and Aristotle, among others, wrote of Phrygian music as loud and percussive. The Phrygian capital of Gordion has been extensively excavated by Penn and other schools since 1950. Over the years, they found a number of tortoise shells with holes drilled in them. The team believed that the shells were musical instruments, delicately worked and similar to some found in Greece and Italy. Holzman realized that the strings for the instrument didn’t go through the holes in the shells. Instead, the holes were used to attach the shell to a wood frame that functioned similarly to a harp, while the shell acted as the sounding box, creating a lyre. The discovery of lyres suggests a more lyrical, harmonious music than Greek and Roman writers allowed.

Holzman has published his findings in the American Journal of Archaeology and, though he’s working on his dissertation on Greek temple architecture, he plans to continue exploring the Phrygian music scene.