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In this section of the website, I will explore the unique lyres once played in Northern Europe, the incredibly preserved remains of which have been found at both Trossingen, Germany & Sutton Hoo, England, which both date to the Dark Ages.

I will also attempt explore the ultimate origin of these unique lyres, so different in style to the Classical Kithara of ancient Greece & Rome, and whose ancient history in Northern Europe has recently been proven to predate the Roman occupation of European lands by hundreds of years, thanks to the discovery of an incredibly preserved lyre bridge discovered on the Isle of Skye, dating to at least 300 BCE.

From my research, I will attempt to demonstrate that just maybe, the ultimate origin of the Northern European lyres may date back as far as the Bronze Age, to a unique exchange of musical ideas between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe, along the same ancient trade routes of copper, tin and iron, which once linked these far flung lands during antiquity...




The lyre was also popular amongst the Anglo Saxons & Southern Germanic Tribes in the Dark Ages. Examples of these lyres, include the Anglo Saxon Lyre found during the 1930s at Sutton Hoo in South East England, and the very well preserved Germanic lyre discovered during the excavation of a grave in Trossingen in 2001.

Below are all the details I could find about the Trossingen lyre on the German Wikipedia site, (translated here into English, for the first time on Web - courtesy of "Google Tanslate"): 

"The Trossinger lyre is a stringed lyre from an Alemannic grave nobility of the 6th Century from the "Music City" Trossingen in Tuttlingen. This almost perfectly preserved lyre is considered the best preserved piece among the 15 previously known early medieval copies. It is in the permanent collection of the State Archaeological Museum in Constance issued. From Easter 2011 to be an accurate replica of the lyre, to be seen together with reproductions of furniture from the grave goods in the Auberlehaus Museum.

The lyre had an overall length of 803 mm, the maximum width was 195 mm on the yoke, at the base of the cross bar 160 mm on the yoke. The width of the instrument is only 11 to 20 mm thick. Resonating body, yoke and yoke arms were carved from one piece of maple. The, 6-1 mm thick, soundboard was made ​​of maple (this was glued and fixed in a subsequent repair) On the approaches to the yoke arms, and each one approximately centered on the soundboard, 8 sound holes are drilled. This is the first evidence of acoustic holes on a lyre. The 6 pegs for tightening and tuning the strings are made ​​of ash, four and two from hazel. The bridge consists of strings of willow wood. Leather scraps at the lower ends of the yoke arms to indicate a kind of strap. Scuff marks and sharpened edges at one of the yoke arms show that the instrument was recorded over a longer time. Probably remnants of the existing strings made ​​of gut have not survived.

Both sides of the lyre are rich, and filling the area with virtually carved ornaments. The front cover of the resonance also features a pictorial representation of humans, which has a rarity for this time. Soot particles in the incised decoration show that the carvings were dyed black.

Front: The resonance cover shows two groups of six armed soldiers, in side view, striding together. Cite each comprise of war with their hands a spear standing upright in front of them, hang from the spout two diamond-shaped streamers of ribbons. The warriors wear shoulder-length hair that is held by a headband. The decorated by a chin beard faces are individually designed. The men are dressed in ankle-length tunic-like garments under their skirts clean by two feet with a hint of heel rise. Each warrior keeps the viewer on the side facing away from the tip to the ground looking spear, and on the face side, two overlapping shields. Whether this represented a doubling or multiplication of the warrior should be indicated is unclear, as each warrior are only assigned to a head, a gun and a couple of feet. Is on the minds of a group, through a separate line, flame-like ornamentation. The yoke arms are decorated with a snake form.

Rear: The sound box is filling the area with a complex formed from 44 snakes. The yoke arms show in three different varieties of straw and ribbon ornaments.

The Alemannic grave field in the city of Trossingen has been known for many years, it has been repeatedly cut during construction work and examined. When creating an underground car park on the former site of the joinery Weiss, archaeologists found in 2001 on soil stains, which indicated a grave. The grave was marked with serial number 58, and excavated. Since the grave chamber had ideal conditions for wood and textile conservation, it was recovered in the block. This Notbergung place in winter 2001/2002 by staff of the Archaeological Heritage in Freiburg. In the Archaeological Institute of the University of Freiburg, for several years under laboratory conditions, exposed and documented. When exposure of the Merovingian nobility tomb of about 40 years, wealthy man with 1.78 meters, for its time very tall, [1] were many grave goods to light: bed, wooden box, bottle, plates, bowls, candlesticks, chairs, table, weapons as well as numerous textile and leather fragments. Sword and lance rider suggest a warrior. [1] The lyre was face-down in the arm height, on the left side of the Dead. It is not certain whether the lyre has been laid in the grave, or whether they later moved. Adhered to the wood of the instrument some textile remnants. Whether the lyre was wrapped in it, is still under investigation. The man died in the late summer of 580th The dendrochronological study of heavy oak planks of the grave, this chamber can be calculated exactly. In his grave the dead man lay in a turned-frame bed that had been transformed by a roof top in a closed coffin. For the right arm of the dead was a sword with his left arm he held the lyre. The man's clothes were good quality, leather Occupied gloves, a wool tunic, linen pants and jacket. Armament included a rider to the lance of a staggering 3.60 meters overall length, a round shield made of alder wood and a riding crop and the remains of a saddle. Even furniture was added to the grave. Beside the bed, the archaeologists found a candlestick, a representative three-legged stool and a table. There are also a turned wooden canteen, where there were remnants of beer, a stilted root shell and a carved basin. There are ingredients, like they were used at a banquet.

The dating of the lyre was carried out by dendrochronological investigations of five wood samples from the grave, a book cover board of the grave chamber, and the candlestick showed matching dates - the trees from which the wood was fashioned dated to around the years 578-580 AD. The lyre is also the latest from the year 580, because of the wear marks on the instrument is of an earlier production date assumed. An assessment of the instrument by the harp and lyre builders Rainer M. Thurau revealed that the lyre was fully playable. Precise and technically accurate replicas of the instrument is in the Museum in Trossingen Auberlehaus near the archaeological site, and the Archaeological Musem in Constance. More faithful to the original replicas are in the possession of the Viennese composer Eberhard grief, which she as a solo and accompanying instrument (eg on Horace Odes) is used and owned by the internationally renowned lyre artist Benjamin Bagby which the instrument with his' Beowulf' interpretation uses. Eberhard Kummer suggested that might have served with the use of the instrument, the snakes and Flechtornamente on the yoke arms, the musician to focus on playing the melody, because they display different scales. Due to the high musical and historical interest in the Fund, are there are now some more, but for the most part critical reconstructions of the instrument under consideration.

Eberhard Kummer: "The Trossinger lyre: The carvings on the right arm (top view) of the lyre on the front (where the bar sits) are divided into a tetrachord (from top to bottom) and a hexachord The tetrachord is chromatic. (or quartertones), the hexachord (starting from the top sound hole, near the vertebrae) in the diatonic intervals T, T, ST, T, T. The carvings at the hexachord to the voices of the six strings (eg c up to a afford) a valuable service. On the left arm are the same engravings (snakes) is attached. the back side has carvings divided (in two tetrachords and come close to a seventh), the Indian Sruti, roughly enough to represent the two Vedic main keys. " 


In Germany, this lyre is also known as the "Alemannische Leier" or "Alamannische Leier". Below is a photo of this amazing lyre, showing the remarkably good state of preservation:



Michael J. King manufactures luthier quality replicas of the Anglo Saxon Lyre, which date to the 7th century CE, as based upon the magnificent finds at Sutton Hoo, where the remains of the famous Anglo Saxon Lyre now preserved in the Bristish Museum (see below), were discovered: 

Below are the remains of the actual Sutton Hoo Lyre, now preserved in the Bristish Museum:


Here is a quote from Michael's website, on the history of the Sutton Hoo Lyre:


"This the instrument of the Anglo Saxon Minstrels/Bards (in Anglo-Saxon times they were called scops, pronounced as shops)

The name used for this instrument in Germanic tongues is a Hearpe.
In the last Century in countries like Sweden a Harpa was still the word used as a generic term for any stringed musical instrument.

These instruments are mentioned in Beowulf the 10th century epic poem, and fragments have been found at many Anglo Saxon sites In England, including Sutton Hoo, Taplow, Abingdon, Bergh Apton, Morning Thorpe, Snape and more recently Prittlewell.
The Sutton Hoo Lyre in the British Museum is the most widely known model."



The striking similarity between the reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo Lyre & the Trossingen Lyre is quite striking! To me, this certainly seems to demonstrate the radiation of either the radiation of Germanic musical culture to the Anglo Saxon settlers of England in between the 6th & 7th centuries CE, or indeed, vice versa?  

The similarity between these lyres is probably due to the fact that the German warrior's grave in which the  Trossingen Lyre was found, belonged to the Almanni  Tribe, closely related to the Anglo Saxons, as explained by the British lyre luther, Corwen Broch in his own fascinating website:

"The Alamanni were a Germanic tribe closely related to Anglo Saxons, and this instrument shows a striking similarity to Anglo Saxon lyres, though is of a plainer and more robust construction as it lacks the weak joint between the top peg holding arm and the body typical of Anglo Saxon lyres." 







There are videos I have recently found, of both replica versions of both the Sutton Hoo Lyre & the Trossingen Lyres being played, which also illustrates both the similarity in sound & the playing techniques used on both replica instruments...





Below is one of Michael's many fascinating videos of his replica of the Sutton Hoo lyre being played:



For full details on the history of the Anglo Saxon lyre, and the amazing craftsmanship which has gone into its painstaking reconstruction, please visit Michael's J. King's fascinating website:




Below is a fascinating of a replica Trossingen Lyre being played:



For fascinating details on the reconstruction of the Trosslingen Lyre, please see the link to the following website:




How did the lyre, which as all the current evidence suggests, originated in ancient Mesopotamia, become established in the wilds of Northern Europe, and why do the examples of surviving Northern European lyres (as described in the previous section, about the Sutton Hoo & Trossingen Lyres) differ so greatly from the Classical Kithara of ancient Greece & Rome? I will attempt to explore some of these perplexing issues, in the light of new archaeological discoveries and some fascinating ancient texts which certainly seem to attest to the lyre being well established in Northern Europe, centuries before any Roman invasions may have introduced the instrument to these remote lands.



I was amazed to learn that the incredibly preserved bridge of a lyre has recently been discovered on the Isle of back to to at least 300 BCE! 

Bridge of Ancient Scottish Lyre c.1300BCE


This incredible find, completely re-writes the history of how the lyre ended up in Europe & could place the ultimate origin of the lyre back in time thousands more years than previously thought:

"Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the remains of the earliest stringed instrument to be found so far in western Europe. The small burnt and broken piece of carved piece of wood was found during an excavation in a cave on Skye.

Archaeologists said it was likely to be part of the bridge of a lyre dating to more than 2,300 years ago. Music archaeologist Dr Graeme Lawson said the discovery marked a "step change" in music history. The Cambridge-based expert said: "It pushes the history of complex music back more than a thousand years, into our darkest pre-history. And not only the history of music but more specifically of song and poetry, because that's what such instruments were very often used for.

The earliest known lyres date from about 5,000 years ago, in what is now Iraq, and these were already complicated and finely-made structures. But here in Europe even Roman traces proved hard to locate. Pictures, maybe, but no actual remains."

The remains, which were unveiled in Edinburgh, were found in High Pasture Cave, where Bronze and Iron Age finds have been made previously.

Cultural historian Dr Purser said: "What, for me, is so exciting about this find is that it confirms the continuity of a love of music amongst the Western Celts"

Archaeologists said the find marked a "step change" in music history:

"Stringed instruments, being usually made of wood, rarely survive in the archaeological record, but they are referred to in the very earliest literature, and, in various forms, were to feature on many stone carvings in Scotland and Ireland, and to become emblematic in both countries."

Steven Birch, an archaeologist involved in the excavation, said deeper sections of the cave were reached using a flight of stone steps. He said:

"Descending the steep and narrow steps, the transition from light to dark transports you out of one world into a completely different realm, where the human senses are accentuated.

Within the cave, sound forms a major component of this transformation, the noise of the underground stream in particular producing a calming environment."

Dr Fraser Hunter, principal curator of Iron Age and Roman Collections at National Museums Scotland, said the fragment of musical instrument put "sound into the silent past".

Culture and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop added:

"This is an incredible find and it clearly demonstrates how our ancestors were using music and ritual in their lives. The evidence shows that Skye was a gathering place over generations and that it obviously had an important role to play in the celebration and ritual of life more than 2,000 years ago."

AOC Archaeology in Edinburgh worked on conserving the bridge.

It was among several artefacts recovered from the cave in a project supported Highland Council, Historic Scotland and National Museums of Scotland" (BBC News Highlands & Islands)



Prior to this discovery, it was reasonable to assume that the first harp-sized lyres dated back to the famous Golden & Silver Bull Lyres discovered at Ur, c.2600 BCE, leading to the development of the the first Canaanite portable version of the lyre from c.1900 BCE.

This in turn lead to the introduction of the lyre into Egypt between around 1200 BCE & the Temple lyres in Judea/Israel during Biblical times, before the lyre was first introduced into Europe via Mesopotamian trade routes into Greece & Rome around 700 BCE and then into the rest of Europe, until the tragic demise of the lyre in Europe at the end of the Dark Ages...

Evidence of a fully developed portable lyre in the remote Scottish Isles from as early as 300 BCE completely overturns the chronology cited above! The lyre must have migrated along trade routes to Europe possibly thousands of years earlier, in order to be fully established in the wild, remote Scottish Isles, over 2300 years ago! 

This new find verifies the fact in musical archaeology, that the date of the first archaeological evidence of the existence of any particular musical instrument is not the same, as the date which that particular instrument first appeared. Indeed, the Silver & Gold Bull Lyres found at Ur dating to circa 2600 BCE were incredibly ornate & fully evolved - the ultimate ancestor of the the harp-sized lyres discovered at Ur may pre-date the Bull Lyres of Ur by thousands of years... 

Indeed, given the incredibly early date of the lyre found in the Scottish Isles, there is always the possibility that there may have been no "ultimate" geographical origin of the lyre - rather than the concept of an instrument which first evolved in ancient Mesopotamia before spreading to the rest of the ancient world via ancient trade routes, it is also a perfectly feasible hypothesis, that a European version of lyre may have evolved completely in isolation from the lyre which first developed in the ancient Near East? A fascinating possibility!

There are arguments against this hypothesis being likely, though, as John Wheeler recently explained:

"Possible but unlikely - there are too many common features even as there are striking differences. One would then have to explain why many cultures that could easily have done the same independent development, did not, but remain in a musically undeveloped state with regard to stringed instrument.

Aerophones give a standard of comparison - almost everyone has some variation of the two kinds of flutes and the panpipe, developed independently. But chordophones take a greater mental sophistication (I mean in style of thinking, not in degree of intelligence) to develop to a high state, or so it would seem. The South American Indians were very advanced in their aerophones, but until the Spanish came they didn't even have the musical bow to my knowledge. Again, the Polynesians achieved many things, but a native stringed instrument wasn't one of them" 

If it is more unlikely that the European lyre did not develop independently in isolation, then, how & when was the portable lyre of the Near East introduced to Europe? Quite possibly the Celts, maybe via ancient trade routes to the Middle East via somewhere such as modern day Turkey? There were certainly well established ancient tin and copper trade routes between Northern Europe and the Middle East - imported from Northern Europe for the production of bronze

The time of this musical cross-cultural connection must have been very early, given the fact that the lyre was established somewhere as remote as the wilds of the Scottish Isles by 300 BCE - this certainly excludes the possibility of the lyre being introduced into Britain by the Romans.



If my theory of how the lyre may have been introduced to Northern Europe, via an ancient cross-cultural exchange of musical ideas along the same ancient trade routes between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe is true, then the theory should predict that some of the same ancient musical modes heard throughout the ancient Near East may have survived in parts of Northern Europe - & I have recently found such evidence! Below is a video I stumbled upon, of a hauntingly beautiful Norwegian folk song, actually accompanied by small replica Northern European-style lyre, which is in the ancient Middle Eastern Chromatic Dorian Mode! 

This song, and similar Northern European folk songs like it, could well be the very remnants of this same ancient cross-cultural exchange of musical ideas between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe, which prove my theory:


For more fascinating information about the ancient history of the lyre in Norway and Scandinavia, a highly informative paper entitled "The Early Lyre in Scandinavia. A Survey" by Gjermund Kollttveit (of the Department of Music and Theatre at the University of Olso), can be downloaded here



There is also tantalizing documented evidence of the lyre being established in the British Isles from an ancient Greek source from the 1st century BCE. There is the fascinating writings of Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2. 47. 1 - 6 (trans. Oldfather), regarding the musical practices of the people from the island of "Hyperboria":

 "the following legend is told concerning it: Leto was born on this island, and for that reason Apollon is honoured among them above all other gods; and the inhabitants are looked upon as priests of Apollon, after a manner, since daily they praise this god continuously in song and honour him exceedingly. And there is also on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollon and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape. Furthermore, a city is there which is sacred to this god, and the majority of its inhabitants are players on the cithara; and these continually play on this instrument in the temple and sing hymns of praise to the god, glorifying his deeds."

Hyperborea was identified with Britain first by Hecataeus of Abdera in the 4th century BC. According to Wikipedia:

"Hecateaus of Abdera also wrote that the Hyperboreans had a 'circular temple' on their island, and some scholars have identified this with Stonehenge. This is further supported by the fact that Stonehenge has been known as Apollo's Temple since classical antiquity, and Hyperborea in Greek legend was related to Apollo"

Indeed in the document of by Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BCE, Siculus, besides reference to the musical practices of the Hyperboea, he also clearly states the following very telling details about the island of Hyperporea, which certainly seems to capture in writing, the very essence of the British Isles:

"In the regions beyond the land of the Celts there lies in the ocean an island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is situated in the north and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the north wind (Boreas) blows; and the island is both fertile and productive of every crop, and has an unusually temperate climate"

There is, however, there is evidence which can be inferred from the text to suggest, that the island of Hyperbora may be identified instead, not with the British Isles in general, but rather, in particular with Ireland... 

From the text by Sicilus, rather than mentioning a circular temple (which could be indentified with Stone Henge) , he specifically mentions that is is this Temple is spherical :

"on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollon and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape"

Could he be referring instead, to the distinctively spherical site of Newgrange?

As Peter Pringle suggested in a discussion on this topic in the Facebook Group, "The Lyre":

" 'Spherical' suggests that the temple was covered, or mound-like, which Newgrange definitely is. Newgrange, if modern archaeologists are correct, is also older than Stonehenge by many centuries"

Peter goes on to argue:

"I'm for Newgrange as the most likely candidate and for Ireland as the land of the Hyperboreans.

There is also a curious syllabic/linguistic correlation between the Greek word "Hyperboria" and the Latin word for Ireland, "Hibernia"...............? Drop out a couple of letters and you have almost the same word: Hyboria = Hiberia ?"

The linguistic evidence for Hyperbora being identified with Ireland is for me, most compelling - "Hibernia" could certainly be an actual Latin transliteration of the original Greek word "Hyperboria".




Sadly, the only remant remaining in Nothern Europe of the lyres of the ancient world, which almost certainly has evolved from the ancient lyres of the Mediterranean & Middle East, is the bowed Welsh Crwth:

The modern form of this unique Welsh folk instrument is in essence, a lyre, in the sense that the strings pass over a bridge passing over a resonating body (which is very similar to the Anglo Saxon Lyre), but instead plucking open strings, the strings pass over a fretless fingerboard, and are bowed, just like on a violin:


Here is some interesting details on the historical background to this instrument, quoted from Wikipedia:

"Possible ancestors of the crwth are the lyre of the classical antiquity and the bowed Byzantine lyre of the 9th century. The modern crwth appears to date from only the late 15th or early 16th century and almost surely is not, as some romanticized accounts imply or declare, the same instrument that was played by the ancient and Medieval Welsh bards. In fact, its close ancestors became instruments of the folk culture of Wales and the West Country and West Midlands following the demise of minstrelsy in Britain at the close of the Middle Ages; and in its final form (probably emerging ca 1485-1510), it seems to have been confined to Wales. Although the modern crwth bears something of a resemblance to the classical lyre, with the addition of a bow, it is more closely related to the various plucked and bowed square and round lyres that drawings, paintings, and sculptures show to have existed throughout northern Europe from as far back as the 8th century. While the Middle-Eastern origin of the early European chordophone bow seems beyond dispute, the connections between the European round and square lyres and Middle-Eastern and Classical prototypes are tenuous at best" 

More fascinating details about the Welsh Crwyth, including the discovery of a second resonating chamber beneath the fingerboard in all of the surviving examples of this unique bowed lyre, can be found here 



Unlike the unique continent of Africa, (as described in my other blog on this subject) where the incredible archaic lyres of antiquity are still being made & played, in the Western world, after the Dark Ages & early Medieval period, the wonderful lyres of the ancient world were gradually replaced, not by the harp - but by fretted string instruments, which required less strings & are much more versatile & portable.

This may have been a new dawn for instruments such as the lute, but with the loss of the lyre of antiquity in Northern Europe, one of the last threads linking us back to the ancient world was irrevocably broken and in that moment, thousands of years of ancient musical tradition was forever forgotten.

It is therefore my personal mission, to redress the balance - using my recordings and research as the catalyst, I yearn to see the day when the lost lyres of antiquity will be returned to their former place of musical glory, rising once more, like the legendary Phoenix, from the dark ashes of oblivion...