Europe’s ‘earliest string instrument’?

I wonder sometimes about scientific discoveries, especially when it comes to archaeological artifacts. The BBC and other British news sources report the finding a notched piece of wood on Skye “believed to be the bridge of an ancient lyre” some 2300 years old. Cambridge “music archaeologist” Dr Graeme Lawson said the discovery marked a “step change” in music history.

I’m reminded of the saying “If all you have is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails.” Dr. Lawson may indeed be correct about his analysis and, indeed, fragments of early lyres are known from graves and other sites in Britain, and lyres are among the most ancient of instrument types. It’s not impossible. But you have to question the evidence when all you have is a notched fragment of a bridge. I’ll withhold judgement pending further examination of the research, which appears to be in private corporate hands (another reason to be suspect).

I can think of a dozen more likely uses for a piece of wood that shape, including a tape loom, a comb, a hide scraper, some kind of small rake…. ok, maybe not a dozen. But if you’re a music archaeologist, you’re going to be looking for artifacts that could conceivably have had a musical function. If you’re a textile specialist or a tool specialist, you might see any number of possible functions for the object. What does it look like to you?

This is not the best picture. There is a hole drilled through the bridge about halfway up the right side for no obvious reason. Note that the thing is quite small. My question would be why such deep notches? Inefficient at the least and bad physic too, probably, having a damping effect on the strings.

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