3-Printing brings ancient Irish music back to life

A PhD student at the Australian National University has resurrected an ancient Irish musical instrument, by 3D printing a new mouthpiece based on an artefact found on archaeological digs.

Billy Ó Foghlú, from ANU College of Asia-Pacific, found evidence that the artefact may have been a mouthpiece from an iron-age horn and not the butt of a spear as previously thought.

When he put his printed part to the test, the ancient Irish horn had a richer, more velvety tone.

“Suddenly the instrument came to life,” Ó Foghlú said. “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.”

Iron-age horns have been found across Europe, but only in Ireland did they appear not to have mouthpieces, a position Ó Foghlú refused to accept.He believed the so-called Conical Spearbutt of Navan, might in fact be a mouthpiece to the horn. But he could not get access to the original bronze piece. Instead, he used the measurements to produce an 3-printed replica.


Ó Foghlú says the lack of mouthpieces found in Ireland may be because the instruments were ritually dismantled when their owner died.

“A number of instruments have been found buried in bogs,” he told the ANU’s news magazine. “The ritual killing of an instrument and depositing it in a burial site shows the full significance of it in the culture,” he said.

“Tutankhamen also had trumpets buried with him in Egypt. Contemporary horns were also buried in Scandinavia, Scotland and mainland Europe: they all had integral mouthpieces too.”

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