Conservation Project: Auloi of Meroë, July 2017

Conservation and Collections Management

Two additional study sessions were conducted in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2017. To date, twelve individual tubes forming six double pipes have been tentatively assembled. These can be divided into three groups of distinctly different instruments and are currently referred to as the "long pipes," "short pipes," and "wooden pipes." Each group is distinguished by different features, including length and mechanical mechanisms, and would have produced very different music, ranging from more archaic scales to contemporaneous Hellenistic chromaticism. Most importantly, it is now virtually certain that all fragments of tubing can be assigned to one of these twelve pipes. Remaining uncertainties mostly relate to the placement of the lowest sections of the shorter pipes. Because the shorter pipes are made from different materials, evaluation of their corrosion patterns are more difficult.

Further detailed measurements will need to be undertaken to form the basis for calculations and experimental reconstructions, which in turn will require comparison with the originals. Step by step, the project is drawing closer to articulating results and their bearing on the understanding of ancient music and to producing sounds that may approximate the music of the ancient instruments.

The longest two pairs of pipes measure more than three feet in length, thus posing a considerable challenge to the player. They are the longest pipes ever found, comparable only to instruments found in ancient depictions, for instance from Pompeii. Each one of these four tubes is equipped with bronze slider mechanisms that end with sound hole covers in the shape of sea shells, held in the snout of a small dolphin (see the February 2014 update).

Specialist leaning over pipes arranged on table

The second group of double pipes, dubbed the "short pipes," contain a large number of rotating mechanisms, creating comparatively high-pitched as well as highly chromatic modulating instruments.

Double pipes

Below, Stefan Hagel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences plays a preliminary 3D-printed replica of a pair of "wooden pipes" at Harvard University in March 2017.

Music archaeologist playing preliminary 3D-printed replica of a pair of wooden pipes