NEWARK, OH (AP Newsliar) -- Archaeologists working in south central Ohio have found what may be the earliest audio recording ever discovered. The recording is etched into the surface of a large clay ceremonial burial pot, uncovered near the Newark earthworks, a location that was once the center of the thriving Hopewell culture. The pot has been tentatively dated to about 250 A.D.
The Hopewell people, ancestors of many modern day Native American tribes, are perhaps best known for their elaborate earthworks and burial mounds. The Hopewell culture existed during the Middle Woodland period, 200 B.C. to 400 A.D., and was centered around the Ohio River and its tributaries in southern Ohio. At its height this culture covered most of the eastern and midwestern United States, with an even more extensive trade network.
The recording was probably made inadvertently, says Dr. Armand Hammer of Ohio State University's anthropology department, by means of a long copper wire used to engrave a spiral decoration on the outside of the clay pot. Similar to a phonograph recording, the copper needle would have picked up stray sounds and transmitted the vibrations into the groove etched into the pottery. Ohio State researchers were able to play these sounds back and re-record them onto modern media formats.
"The recording quality is surprisingly not all that bad," says Dr. Hammer. "Certainly not the kind of nasty clipping and saturation you'd hear from a really poorly engineered recording, like, say Rush's 'Vapor Trails' album."
The recording contains multiple voices singing some type of ceremonial chant. "Of course nobody has ever known much about the actual language of the Hopewell culture, which collapsed over a thousand years before Europeans first set foot in the Americas," says Dr. Hammer. "All we had to go on was that it had to be some form of a proto-Algonquian dialect, so we started extrapolating backwards as best we could."
After months of painstaking reconstruction, linguistics researchers have been able to piece together the words being sung by the ancient Hopewell, over 1800 years ago:
"I like big butts and I cannot lie
No other warrior can deny
When a squaw walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face..."