- Museum number
Fragment of a wooden lute. This is only the neck of the instrument, the body has not survived. The lute had four gut strings, the remains of which can still be seen around three remaining tuning pegs of the original four. The shape of two of the pegs resembles the Coptic ankh cross. The frets of the instrument were made using gut strings. There are marks showing at the top of the fingerboard where two strands of gut, probably with a third strand on top of them to raise the height of the strings, served as a nut. The surviving doubled strand of gut was a fret, and the slightly thicker single strand may have been a fret for higher notes. The body, or bowl, of the lute was “pyriform”, or pear-shaped, and would have been attached to, and supported by, the arms at the bottom of the neck. A gusset arrangement in the notch on the back of the neck provided a third point of support. The crack in the neck was caused by the event that detached the body from the neck, taking the gusset with it. At the low end of the fingerboard is a square wood fragment, attached by wooden pegs. This is what remains of the wooden soundboard that covered the top of the lute body.
When whole, the lute would have been similar to those painted on the mural paintings found in the Dingjiazha Tomb No.5, of the Northern Liang kingdom period (384-441), located in Jiuquan, Gansu province. - credit to Jack Eden
The lute would also have been similar to those shown on schist stair risers in the Museum collection (for more information see 1991,0213.1; 1903,0622.1 and 1880.33). These were made around the same time as the lute neck, but in the Ghandhara region which, although located about 1500 kilometres to the west, had cultural links with Niya. Available research information on ancient lutes indicates that this may be the earliest known specimen of a pyriform lute.
- Production date
Height: 43.50 centimetres
Width: 16.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Stein (1907, 899) suggests comparing the neck to an instrument portrayed in a painted panel from the same location, which he described as looking like a “modern mandoline” (Stein 1907, 294; Plate LXVII, D. II. 010). A more detailed description of the circumstances under which the instrument was found is given in Stein 1912, 377.
The Department of Asia would like to thank Tim A. Stevens (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) for his help with updating the description of the lute-neck.
- On display (G33/dc13a/s1)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The 1907-11-11 group refers to objects from Stein's First Central Asian Expedition, 1900-01. According to Stein's Introduction to 'Ancient Khotan' (1907), the expedition was funded by the Governments of India, the Panjab (Punjab) and from provincial funds of Bengal. All the finds were shipped to London for sorting, research and publication. The Government of India then recommended that Dr Rudolf Hoernle, together with the British Museum, should determine the distribution of the finds (BM Archives, Stein Papers, CE32/23/5).
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: N.xii.2 (Stein no.)