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Musicking in Ancient Egypt

The project titled Time in sound and music / Music and sound in time is a cooperation between the German Archaeological Institute, the Institute for Musicology and Media Studies of Humboldt University Berlin, and the Media Department of the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum), funded by the Einstein Center Chronoi. The project’s goal is to improve understanding of time and music in ancient cultures.

The part of the project based in the Ethnologisches Museum focuses on music in ancient Egypt and is carried out in close cooperation with Prof. Dr. Ricardo Eichmann and Prof. Dr. Lars-Christian Koch. No notation system is known to have been used in ancient Egypt. For this reason, the principle sources for this research are iconographic depictions, written descriptions, and archaeological finds (musical instruments and their replicas). A first focus of this research project is to establish a chronology for the relatively well understood musical practice of the New Kingdom (ca. 1550 to 1070 BCE / 18th-20th dynasty). Next an experimental organology approach will allow replicas of ancient musical instruments to be played by musicians today. At the same time, project researchers will carry out ethnomusicological case studies. Besides attending to music theoretical (intervals, scales) and music sociological questions, additional research foci include pitch sets, tunings, and building materials for musical instruments; ensemble musicking (instrumentation; sacred and secular contexts); and acoustical examinations of performance contexts in pharaonic spaces. We will also attempt to establish continuities and breaks within the highly ritualized and calendrical musical life of ancient Egypt.

Project leader: Dr. Maurice Mengel, head of the Media Department of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst der Staatlichen Museen Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Project assistant: Dennis Hopp, M. A.
Cooperating partners: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin; Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Project funding: Einstein-Zentrum Chronoi (Einstein-Stiftung Berlin)
Timeframe: January 2021 through January 2022