possibly Ethiopian

Not on view

Some musical instrument origin myths reference human or animal remains and skulls and bones are sometimes used as decoration or as an instrument’s key component. The oldest playable instruments are red-crowned crane-bone flutes from China's Neolithic Age and in Tibet thigh-bone trumpets (rkangling) and skull drums (damaru) were used. Skull lyres, thought to be from Ethiopia, are rare, scarcely documented and found only in museums. While some have suggested a symbolic or clandestine ritual use for these lyres, there is no known tradition. Most likely it is a sensational item made for the nineteenth-century European market.

Lyre, Human skull, animal skin, hair, wood, gut, possibly Ethiopian

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.