Who’s Got the Lute?

Rooting around in a dusty basement storeroom I came across a broken, shovel-shaped piece of wood that seemed oddly familiar to me. I pondered it for some time and then realized what it was. It was the soundboard for an ancient Egyptian musical instrument known as a lute.

A stringed instrument, the lute is an ancestor of the guitar and violin and the holes in the soundboard in the lute are similar to the round, central hole in a guitar or the ‘f-hole’ in a violin. In ancient Egypt, the soundboard covered a wooden bowl or sometimes a turtle shell that was attached to a long wooden stick or neck. Strings were tied to the neck and rand down over a bridge attached to the soundboard.

Tomb scenes show both men and women playing lutes along with other stringed instruments at banquets and festivals. The parts of the wooden lute I discovered has now been restored and can be seen at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta.

Lute being played by a man from the Tomb of Amenemhat.
Restored lute. © Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University

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