In 1931, archaeologists discovered a conch shell—then assumed to be a drinking vessel—in the Marsoulas Cave, famous for its long history of sheltering early humans and providing a trove of artifacts, in Southern France. Nine decades later, a study published in Science Advances has determined that the shell had been modified to attach a mouthpiece, indicating it was most likely used as a horn.

Using advanced imaging techniques, the research team identified all of the areas where the shell had been altered by ancient people to create the instrument. At 17,000 years old, it is the oldest known conch shell horn. Whether the horn was used for communication, religious practices, or entertainment isn’t clear, but Jean-Michel Court, a musicologist at the University of Toulouse, was able to blow through it for the first time in millennia. It is capable of playing notes very close to C, C sharp, and D.

Have a listen here:

Audio: The sound of a musicologist playing the oldest known conch shell horn. Image: Hypothetical representation of the conch horn in use
FRITZ ET AL., SCI ADV, 7:EABE9510, 2021