Episode 141: What does the South African archaeological record reveal about Stone Age music-making?

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On this episode of the Arch and Anth Podcast, Joshua Kumbani (Recentring AfroAsia; University of the Witwatersrand) talks about his work in music archaeology, ethnomusicology and experimental archaeology, studying the evidence of Later Stone Age artefacts used for music-making from the southern Cape of South Africa.

How long ago does the study of music-making and musical instruments in archaeology date back to? How did Josh and his colleagues establish a working group to map and investigate the history and prehistory of musical activities within Africa, incorporating ethnographic and ethnomusicological perspectives? What factors make it difficult to study sound production in the Later Stone Age, and what contexts do we find these implements in when we do discover them?

Additionally, Josh and his colleagues recreated spinning disc replicas out of bone based on ones found at a Klasies River site, in order to see what these perforated bone pieces might have sounded like 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. What would instruments like the disc-shaped "woer woer" (or "whirr whirr" in Afrikaans) have sounded like when they were played in the past, especially in cave settings where the noise could've been amplified? For what recreational or sociocultural reasons do archaeologists suppose these artefacts were played?

You can find more information in the show notes under the episode on our website.

If you have feedback or questions, you can find Josh on Twitter and read his paper with his colleagues about the reconstruction of Stone Age instruments.

You can find Michael on Twitter and Instagram.

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