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March 26, 2006

Roman Phonograph Record!

Ancient pottery recreates sounds from a workshop

Incredible! French archaeologists have taken pottery from ancient Pompeii and managed to play back the grooves created when the clay was turned, recreating the sounds of the pottery workshop, including laughter.

Movie clip, including a sample of the audio, at www.zalea.org/article.php3?id_article=496. Click "Telecharger la video" to play. The commentary, however, is in French.

It's an MP4 recording--the movie, not the vase. If you don't already have a player, you can download Quicktime from the Apple site--just click here. Be advised that the current version of Quicktime is bundled with iTunes.

So apparently Edison wasn't the first to come up with the Phonograph Recorder after all. But we can still give him credit for inventing the Phonograph Player.

For further comments, skeptical, supportive, a few crude and stupid, see www.digg.com/science/Archaeologists_get_ancient_audio_from_grooves_on_Pompeii_pottery.

With acknowledgment to Dewayne Hendricks.

Update added 28 March 2006
Thanks to Denys P. Beauchemin in Texas for the following translation:

Announcer: "It is in this university building at Cherat (?) that a research team made an incredible discovery. It all started with this vase created more than 5 centuries ago in South America."

Philippe Delaite: "We had in our reserves (storage) some vases that had been there for many generations, and in which nobody had been interested. We undertook a series of analyses and we realized that one of the vase with a totally normal appearance turned out to contain sound. Yes, you heard me right, I said sound contained on the surface of the vase."

Philippe Delaite: "The sound was recorded accidentally by the potter at the time he was decorating his vase with the help of a long needle., we can suppose. Ambient sound was recorded thanks to the frequencies acting on the needle and so was preserved by the energy of the needle."

Announcer: "Other potteries and currently undergoing analysis and the results speak for themselves. The fragment of a phrase pronounced in Latin recorded almost 2,000 years ago has been found on an antique vase originally from Pompeii."

(Recording in Latin follows, with what sound like laughter.)

Philippe Delaite: "One has to figure that if within a few weeks if these recordings turn out to be very interesting, the Faculty of the University will produce a CD with these recordings, which should be available in a few months. One can hope."

Announcer: "And while we wait to enjoy the CD, "Credo quia absurdum."

(The latter translates to "I believe it because it is absurd.")

Update added 29 March 2006
A great story. But apparently it's a hoax, so I guess they got me. See archaeology.about.com/b/a/251945.htm (thanks again to Denys Beauchemin), and archaeology.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/3992/. Dave Schilling sent a tongue-in-cheek note suggesting that I might have waited a week before posting it. I did--several weeks, in fact. But it's one of those things like the number of blades on a lawnmower being one more than the number you've cleaned. The idea is said to have been inspired by a short story entitled "Time Shards" by SF-writing colleague Greg Benford. Neat idea, Greg."
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