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:

In 2020 the ISGMA conference was to take place in Berlin, Germany, hosted by the Ethnological Museum Berlin in cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute. Due to the delayed opening of the Humboldt Forum (the new home of the collections of the Ethnological Museum) the conference will take place in 2021.


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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