Lithophone is a word derived from the Greek words ‘Lithos’ and ‘Phone’ where lithos means stones and phones would mean music. Both the words together form a meaning, which is music in stones or sound making stones. Presently, the meaning of this word is referred to the musical instrument made of stones. These lithophones have been found in many parts of the world including Vietnam and are claimed to be used 4,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The Lithophones Of Vietnam
A lithophone is essentially several stones of different sizes, which when struck, they produce vivid tones. This is why it is also compared usually to a xylophone. In Vietnam, Lithophones are also called Dan Da, meaning stone instrument. The earliest discovery of these instruments was done in 1949.
In the Central Highlands of Vietnam, in Ndut Lieng Krak, of Dak Lak province, a group of road-builders unearthed a set of 11 large stone slabs, standing close together in a vertical position. Because of their historical significance, an ethnologist Georges Condiminas was contacted.
10 slabs were intact and chiseled, representing a particular function. These stones were taken to the Musée de l’Homme in Paris to be examined, on Condiminas’ request.
Who Established The Musical Function Of These Stone Slabs?
Apparently, while examining the stones, Condiminas himself struck the stone and incidentally discovered that they can make sound. According to sources, it was a musicologist, André Schaeffner, who discovered that these stones could have been used to make music in the ancient times.
He found out that when the stones are struck, they make different sounds. Also, he could make out the tool markings on the slabs, which was an indication that someone tuned them. He arranged these slabs according to their pitch, as they produced different tones when struck.
However, this set of stones was not the only discovery in Vietnam. There were many other lithophones discovered in many parts of the world. Apparently the biggest set of stones, with 20 slabs, was dug out by a farmer in Lam Dong, also in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, in 2003. Till date, over 200 such tuned lithophones have been verified as genuine by the experts.
Earlier Discoveries Of The Stone Instruments
Although it is apparent that the lithophones came in front of the western world only recently, the local tribes knew about them since long. For example, some years prior to the discovery at Ndut Leng Krak, in 1942, a 10-year-old boy, Bo Ren, belonging to the Raglai tribe, discovered 12 lithophones.
The stone came into the public eyes later in 1979, known as the Khanh Hoa Stones, because they were handed over to the Khanh Hoa Museum.
Allegedly these stone instruments were not used to make music by this tribe, instead, they used the stones to protect crops. They used the sounds of these sounds to deter the animals from foraging in the cultivated lands. They also used these musical stones as wind chimes by hanging them on the stream with a bamboo frame and a striker, that would hit the stream and make the slabs make different tones.