The International Study Group on Music Archaeology (ISGMA) is a pool of researchers devoted to the field of music archaeology. The field comprises research methods of musicological and anthropological disciplines, such as archaeology, organology, acoustics, music iconology, philology, ethnohistory, and ethnomusicology. The study group is hosted at the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute Berlin (DAI, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Orient-Abteilung) and the Department for Ethnomusicology at the Ethnological Museum Berlin (Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, SMB SPK, Abteilung Musikethnologie, Medien-Technik und Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv).

Upcoming Events:

11. Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology

Sounds as material culture: Experimental Archaeology and Ethno-Archaeology

November 1-5, 2021 in Berlin

Place: Humboldt Forum, Berlin (Germany)

Organisers: Lars-Christian Koch, Stefan Hagel, Dahlia Shehata

Schedule: November 1: Arrival, welcome and key-note speakers; November 2-5 conference panels, workshops and concerts, November 6 departure.

Following the motto “back to the basics of Music Archaeology” the 11th Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology 2021 will focus on the material background and experimental reconstruction of musical instruments. This is taken as the basis for the investigation and evaluation of past music cultures also in terms of sociological, political, psychological as well as neuroscientific perspectives: How are materials, their procurement, and production reflected in the social organization of musicians and instrument makers? What cognitive pre-conditions exist and develop in the course of realising the interplay between sound and material? What do findings on materiality, workmanship, playing and tuning tell us in regard to their distribution through space and time, conceived of as regionality and interculturality, tradition and change. Due to the question’s interconnectedness, investigations from all areas of Music Archaeology, Ethno-Archaeology, Ethnomusicology and Material Culture Studies are equally in demand.

We warmly invite scholars and students to participate and contribute to the conference. Please send us your abstract (100-150 words) in English or German until March 31st 2021 to the following address: Talks are limited to a total length of 20 minutes, proposals for workshops of up to 120 minutes as well as posters are also welcome.

All proposals will be evaluated by a committee of ISGMA members.


  • (Experimental) instrument making, manufacturing, and producing processes, as well as implications about the required technical knowledge
  • The function of specific components (e.g. sound, handling, decoration), and their usage (e.g. wear marks, patina, damages etc.)
  • Playing and tuning techniques, sound production and compositio
  • Technical terms in instrument making, tuning systems, both in theory and in practice, and its adaptivity, e.g. to music education
  • Technology and material studies in connection with craftmanships
  • Producing and workshop organization, also regarding psychodynamics and sociodynamics

There will be no conference fee, though participants will generally be required to cover their travel and accommodation costs. More detailed information will follow in subsequent circulars. In the meanwhile, we look forward to reading your abstracts and to a stimulating ex-change in Berlin. Even so, we all need to remain aware that the unpredictable nature of the present pandemic may require adjustments of the conference schedule, which we would circulate at the earliest notice.


Music Archaeology (Archaeomusicology, Paleo-Organology, Music Prehistory, etc.), is a cross-disciplinary field of research, operating internationally, which uses methods of both musicology and archaeology. Due to this definition, Music Archaeology has many goals.

One of the most important is the exploration of excavated artefacts that are relevant for the reconstruction of ancient music, such as sound-producing devices, representations of musical scenes and textual evidence. The archaeological analysis and documentation of such artefacts, their dating and description as well as the explanation of find contexts and cultural contexts can shed light on its social-cultural function in the past, and can help us to rebuild them – i.e., to construct playable replicas.

To produce music in a broader sense may also mean the investigation of early musical notations and literary sources that are 'excavated' in libraries or other hidden places. These results may illuminate how instruments were played or how music was sung. But ultimately what was played in ancient times must remain in the dark of the past, and much creativity is needed by modern musicians to imagine how melodies and rhythms may have been composed. Strictly speaking, only the sound of the instruments can be revived – these are the possibilities and limits of Music Archaeology.

In the last few years the field has expanded considerably, with the inclusion of neurophysiological, biological, and psychological research. These approaches explore the possible beginnings of sound production by seeking the earliest prerequisites in the evolution of mankind for music making and musical 'understanding'.

At the other end of the continuum, newly published evidence for musical notations and theoretical writings, or new literary and iconographic sources relevant to ancient music, can add to our understanding of mostly vanished music cultures. The observation and integration of ethnographic analogies in recent or contemporary societies may also help us discover long lasting traditions in making music which are comparable to the silent past.

Music Archaeology has revealed that in the life of all societies past and present music has had an enormous range of meaning – the semantics of which, in many cases, remain to be investigated.


The ISGMA has been founded by Ellen Hickmann and Ricardo Eichmann in 1998. The Study Group emerged from the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology with the objective to obtain closer cooperation with archaeologists, and the new group was named the International Study Group on Music Archaeology (ISGMA). Since then, the ISGMA has worked continuously with the German Archaeological Institute, Berlin (DAI, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin).

A new series called "Studien zur Musikarchäologie" was created in the year 2000 as a sub-series of "Orient-Archäologie" to present the conference reports of the ISGMA, and to integrate music-archaeological monographs independent of the Study Group's meetings; it is published by the Orient Department of the DAI through the Verlag Marie Leidorf.


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