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Archeologists Believed They Have Solved the Mystery of Carved Stones in Colorado

Archeologists were initially baffled when they stumbled upon some oblong stones in the high desert of southern Colorado. For over 40 years, no one could say for sure what the mysterious objects might have been.

Finally, one researcher believes she's cracked the code.

Archeologist Marilyn Martorano first came across the stones more than 40 years ago at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The stones, which were shaped like French baguettes, had obviously been carved and sanded by human beings, but their purpose remained a mystery.

The stones, which are estimated to be more than 5,000 years old, had been sitting in a museum all this time. With their oblong shape and rounded edges, the best guess anyone offered was that they had been used as some kind of tool to grind up nuts and seeds.

Martorano was unconvinced. Grinding stones usually have marks around the edges, and none of these stones had such marks. She was sure they were meant for something else.

When Martorano got the chance to take a closer look at them, so she jumped at it. She held them and examine them, and pondered their purpose.

That's when a friend sent her a video of a collection of lithophones from a French museum.

Lithophones are musical stones, and everything seemed to click for Martorano. She picked them up and tapped them and could hear the sound they made.

"And then once I tapped on them, I thought, wow, maybe I'm the first person who's ever heard these in a thousand years or something," she tells National Public Radio. "And that's when I realized you really have to hear them. That's when you believe it."

Martorano now has a new theory about the stones. She believes they are ancient musical instruments. Lithophones have been found all around the world, but these are the first to have ever been found in southern Colorado.

"Man-made lithophones are sophisticated instruments," Martorano explains to NPR. "Their creators shaped them out of resonant stone to have different pitches and textures. Researchers think some people held the lithophones in their lap and played them. Others suspended them like windchimes. Duncan Caldwell is a prehistorian who studies man-made lithophones in New England. Caldwell says the stones show that sound and music-making have been part of human creativity for thousands of years."

Lithophones have been used by ancient humans to make music for religious ceremonies, such as when people prayed to their gods, danced rites to promote rain or the fertility of the crops. Duncan Caldwell, a prehistorian from New England who studies lithophones, said in the interview that such carved rocks prove how creative ancient man really was.

They've been making music for thousands of years.

Some modern orchestras have been experimenting with the ancient musical instruments. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra created replicas and used them to play music.

The French National Orchestra played lithophones at their 80th-anniversary concert.

Listening to the stone-aged instruments is not what you expect them to be. They can ring in high-pitched tones, sounding more like bells than drums.

Now that we have finally discovered their purpose, people are finally getting to hear what they sound like again after thousands of years.

Source: NPR
Photos: Brad Turner/CPR News via NPR, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve/Flickr

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