Harp Wiki

To understand the significance of the first time the harp appears among artifacts, one must the consider the "firsts" of everything. How long it might have taken to make that first harp, and what was humanity's creative process?

In brief, let's sum up world history to provide context to the harp's journey.

The Beginning of the Earth[]

  • 300-175 million years ago - Pangea. The earth's continents were once joined together and begin breaking apart. [1]
  • 230-65 million years ago - Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs walked the earth until the extinction event took place. [2]
  • 2.8 million years ago - Homo. The genus "Homo" comprises the species Homo sapiens as well as several extinct species. The genus is about 2.8 million years old. Homo's earliest species is Homo habilis. [3]

The Beginning of Humanity[]

Now, lets briefly look at some of humanity's firsts, from stone work, art, music and farming.

  • 200,000 - 100,000 years ago - First Human (Homo Sapien). Latin for "wise person". The first anatomically modern humans came from Africa. [4]
  • 67,000 BCE - First instruments? There are some archeaological finds dating from this time that look like musical instruments made of bone, but their status as an instrument is disputed. It is not clear if their purpose was for music-making. [5]
  • 48,000 BCE - Stone Working. Stone tools can go as far back as 2.6 million years, but around 50,000 years ago, there was an increase in the diversity of artifacts. Bone, wood and the first art artifacts appear in the archealogical record. [6]
  • 42,000 BCE  - Music. (Excluding percussion instruments and voice) Bone flutes are found in a prehistoric cave system along the Danube river. [7]

The First Musical Instruments[]

Let's pause for bit and consider a few facts about musical instruments: [5]

  • Definition: A musical instrument is an object that makes sounds. Humans can use their bodies to make sound (e.g. clapping or singing), but the use of an object to make sound is an instrument.
  • Materials: Early instruments were made from animal skins, bone, wood, and other non-durable materials.
  • Instrument Evolution: Musical instruments developed independently in many populated regions of the world. It is difficult to organize the evolution of instrument technology and workmanship because cultures advance at different rates and have access to different raw materials.
  • Sounds from Nature: First instruments were probably designed to emulate natural sounds, and their purpose was ritual rather than entertainment. The concept of melody and artistic pursuit of composition were unknown to early players of instruments.
  • Mythological Histories: Up until the 19th Century, European-written histories of instruments began with mythological accounts of how musical instruments were invented, such as Jubal (harp & organ), Pan (pan pipes), Apollo (lyre).

Continuing on with humanity's beginnings.

  • 40,000 BCE  - Art. Early human artifacts are found showing evidence of workmanship with an artistic purpose. [8]
  • 15,000 BCE - First Harp? Across the internet, the same sentence has been pasted over and over again, that there are depictions of what could be a harp on French cave walls. Author's note: Most of the subject matter of these painting is of animals (particularly what look like cattle) but among all the photos of the paintings, I could not locate a primary source of anything that looks like a harp. The articles that claim that there is a harp depicted on the 15,000 year old cave paintings are woefully lacking in source material. If you know more about this claim, please help us elaborate!
  • 9,800 BCE - Farming. Domesticated forms of wheat appeared in Chogha Golan. [9]
  • 9,130 BCE - First civilizations. (e.g. Gobekli Tepe) States are formed and governing elite classes appear. Gobekli Tepe also features the oldest human-made place of worship. Civilizations implement a division of labor in order to store food between growing seasons, which give rise to the leisured upper class. Growing complexity of society necessitated systems of writing and accounting. [10]
  • 6,000 BCE - Wine. Earliest archaeological evidence of wine production (Found in Georgia). [11]
  • 4,000 BCE - Cycladic Islands. Archaeological evidence points to sporadic Neolithic settlements on Cycladic Islands at least as early as 4th millennium B.C.E. Even the earliest settlers were accomplished sculptors of stone. [12]
  • 5,000 BCE - Metalworking. Copper Age began when humans discovered copper smelting at high temperatures. [13]
  • 3,200 BCE - 3,400 BCE - Written Language. 3,200 BCE: First phonetic language (Sumerian). 3,400 BCE: First pictographic language (Egyptian) Around this time we see pictographic representations of harp etched into clay in a few places. [14]
  • 3,200 BCE - Cycladic Islands. Early Cycladic culture emerged. [15]

The First Harp[]

And without further ado, the earliest significant work (that I can find) featuring the harp:

Seemingly out of nowhere a fully-formed harp appears from the fog of time. Humans have accomplished a lot. We've learned a great deal about working with stone, wood, bone and metal. We've built farms, cities and societies with complex social stuctures. We've had leisure time to enjoy art, music and dance. Here  is the first solid evidence of the harp born on an island in Greece. It must be a sculptural representation of a real instrument that existed in their culture at the time. The imagination runs wild with many more questions; some are answerable and some are not.

  • How long has the harp already existed in human culture?
  • What materials would their real harp be made of?
  • How would it be played?
  • What role did the musician have in Cycladic culture?
  • Was the harpist a professional or a layman?
  • Why was this artifact made?
  • Who made the artifact?

In a just few hundred years, more representations of the harp are found in Ur, Egypt and Babylon. These harps will be covered in other future articles.


  1. "Pangaea." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangaea>.
  2. "Dinosaur." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaur>.
  3. "Homo." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo>.
  4. "Anatomically Modern Human." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomically_modern_human>.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Musical Instrument." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_instrument>.
  6. "Paleolithic." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic>.
  7. "The World's Oldest Instruments Found?" Classic FM. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <http://www.classicfm.com/music-news/latest-news/worlds-oldest-instruments-found/#VjMiOF4IYAj66B4Q.97>.
  8. "Prehistoric Art." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistoric_art>.
  9. "History of Agriculture." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_agriculture>.
  10. "Civilization." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization>.
  11. "History of Alcoholic Beverages." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_alcoholic_beverages>.
  12. "Cyclades." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclades>.
  13. "Chalcolithic." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalcolithic>.
  14. "History of Writing." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_writing>.
  15. "Cycladic Culture." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycladic_culture>.