Guestblog: The Lyre of Trossingen – pt. 2

Luit van der Tuuk is a Dutch author and independent researcher, specialized in the early middle ages. He is also the curator of Museum Dorestad in Wijk bij Duurstede.

In 1857 Matthias Hohner started the manufacture of harmonicas in Trossingen. Soon they would be sold all over the world. In the last decade of the last century, the production was moved to an industrial site south of the town. The buildings on the old location were torn down to make space for new development. During these proceedings in the winter of 2001/2002, an almost intact lyre was found in a Merovingian grave. Would old Matthias have imagined this when he chose this location?


Reconstruction of the lyre’s engravings.

Reconstructie van de ingesneden decoratie op het bovenblad van de lier.
Thanks to the impenetrable layer of clay in the local ground, organic remains like wood, textiles and leather, were well conserved. Because of the bad winter weather, they raised the wooden burial chamber in which the lyre was found, as one big block of soil, to be examined at the archaeological departement. Dendrochronological research after the boards of the chamber indicated that the deceased was buried around the year 580.

The grave contents belonged unmistakeably to an important man who lived about 40 years. He was buried in expensive clothes, made of fabrics imported from the Mediterranean area. He probably was a warrior who was buried with his armour and lyre. The instrument was found at his left arm, a position we also know from early middle age iconography of lyre players.

Since 2007 are exhibited in the Archäologischen Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg in Konstanz, after eight years of study, conservation and restoration. In the center of the exposition is the lyre, made of a single piece of maple, 81 centimetres in length. The glued on soundboard is also furnished in this wood. Wear and tear shows the instrument was played, and not just given to the deceased as a status symbol.

Peculiar is the placement of the eight sound holes, drilled on both sides of the bridge in the middle of the soundboard. The six tuning pegs, protruding from the yoke indicate the instrument had six strings.

On both sides of the instrument, a large part is decorated with engravings. The main motive of the soundboard shows two groups of six warriors, standing opposite to each other, a lance with banners, standing straight up between them, is held by the two front men. Both arms and the back of the instrument are decorated with ten fields of interwoven snake like animals and animal heads in Germanic style. The incisions are filled with charcoal powder, to contrast the – once – light colored maple.

The scene with twelve warriors fits neatly into the social context of the warrior elite in the early middle ages. But more on that in a later blog.

A Dutch version of this blog was posted at on May 16, 2018. English translation by JAVACA – © Luit van der Tuuk – 2018

This entry was posted in Articles, History, lyre, Projects, Research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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