An Irish archaeologist has used modern technology to solve a 2000 year old mystery. Billy Ó Foghlú, who is currently a Phd student at ANU College of Asia-Pacific, has found evidence that an Iron Age artefact may have originally been used as a mouthpiece for a musical instrument (it was previously thought to be a spear-butt). Using a 3D-printer, Mr Ó Foghlú produced an exact replica of the artefact, which he then added to an ancient Irish horn to produce a richer, more velvety tone.
“Suddenly the instrument came to life,” said Mr Ó Foghlú. “These horns were not just hunting horns or noisemakers. They were very carefully constructed and repaired, they were played for hours. Music clearly had a very significant role in the culture.”
Although prehistoric horns are well attested in the Irish archaeological record, mouthpieces appear to be largely absent. Mr Ó Foghlú was convinced that these objects must have existed and was intrigued by the so-called Conical Spear-butt of Navan.
Unable to gain access to the original bronze artefact, Mr Ó Foghlú instead used the exact measurements of the object to produce a replica on a 3D-printer. He then added this ‘new’ piece to his own replica ancient horn to produce a distinctive sound, not unlike that of a didgeridoo (see the video above).
The addition of a mouthpiece would have given greater comfort and control to ancient horn players and may have increased the range of their instruments. However, few mouthpieces have been found. The dearth of them may be explained by evidence that the instruments were ritually dismantled and laid down as offerings when their owner died, said Mr Ó Foghlú.
The research is published in Emania.