Follow Abufares

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Echos from Ugarit

"This song is for you"

In 1929 a peasant plowing his field 10 km north of Lattakia (Syria) unearthed a strange looking stone in an area called Ras Shamra. He immediately informed the authorities but little did he or the rest of the world know then about the magnitude of his discovery. French archeologist Claude Frédéric-Armand Schaeffer(1898–1982) spent the rest of his life excavating the site. Ugarit was found.

Ugarit was an independent Canaanite kingdom that reigned over the eastern Mediterranean in the 18th century BC (3800 years ago). The Phoenicians, descendants of the Canaanites, built great palaces, temples and shrines in Ugarit between 1450 – 1200 BC. But most importantly they built libraries. They ruled the sea with their strong ships made from the cedars of Lebanon and became the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. They traded silver, gold, textiles and ivory with coastal cities, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Ugarit had a population of 10,000 before she was destroyed and burnt down in 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples whose origins remain a mystery for today's scholars.

It is in Ugarit, among the thousands of tablets found within the walls of her great palaces and libraries that the first Alphabet in history was discovered by Schaeffer. Evidently the Canaanites and their descendants the Phoenicians realized that human speech consists of a finite number of sounds. They simply enough created a symbol for each of these sounds. Well not really that simple as it took civilization 2000 years to achieve this feat. All subsequent phonetic languages (i.e. Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, etc.) utilized most of the original 30 symbols or letters. I find it interesting that the root of the word phonetic as per modern English dictionaries is considered Greek (from phōnētikós from phōneîn to speak). Is it really? Why stop there? Where did phōneîn come from? What was the name of those people living on the Eastern Mediterranean (in today's Syria and Lebanon)? Phoenicians :-) How convenient?

There was one more discovery of unimaginable consequence found in Ugarit. An unearthed clay tablet, one among the multitude, took a while to decipher. Not because it did not stare at archeologists straight in the face but because of inherent biases even in scientific pursuit. Finally in 1974, Anne D. Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California at Berkeley and after five years of hard work was able to interpret the cuneiform script as the lyrics and musical symbols of an Ugaritan song dating back to 3400 BC. The discovery revolutionized music history completely for it moved backward in time the first notated piece of music by 3,000 years. The origin of Western music is not the 400 BC papyrus which contained the Greek Euripides' play Orestes but a much older religious hymn from Ugarit.

Malek Jandali is a Syrian pianist who lives in the United States. He was born in 1972 in Germany and was raised in Homs, Syria after his parents returned to their hometown. He received his early schooling there and graduated from the Arab Conservatory of music in Damascus. Mr. Jandali is an accomplished and daring musician who has won several international awards. His greatest achievement, however, is the release of his 2008 album, Echos from Ugarit in which he rendered the first notated song in history with his eloquent piano. It took such an exceptionally inspired Syrian to remind the world of a simple fact of life: It all started in our backyard, a mere one-hour drive from where I am sitting right now listening to the oldest song in the world being played by a Homsi with an unlimited talent.

Below are Youtube, and download links to Malek Jandali's Echos from Ugarit.

Download Echoes From Ugarit



Anonymous said...

Abufares, you are going deeper and deeper, this is nmarveles


Dubai Jazz said...

Great post Abu Fares. I was under the impression that the note from Nainawa (Nineveh) in Mesopotamia was the oldest in history. This was a revelation to me. Thank you!

Ruslan Trad said...

Look my interview with Malek Jandali:)

Anonymous said...

Abufares, here is another briliant Syrian playing an old classic Arabic song with modern orchestra

Unknown said...

Great post as usual Abufares. I loved your analysis of the word phonetic. Sometimes things are staring at us right the in face, and we just can’t connect the dots. I visited Ugarit 2 years ago, and I learned that much of the ancient city remains underground awaiting funding. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and help dig. Wouldn’t be great if a volunteer organization was set up to keep the thousands of youth busy during the summer, while helping unearth their history?

Gabriela said...

Definitely, yours is a fascinating country. Lots of worlds "mosts" come from Syria.
It amazes me that you refer to cities as females. In Spanish, city (ciudad) is a feminine noun. Refering to a city as a female has such a beautiful music, hasn't it?

oryxm said...

Great post as always, Abufares, and so enlightening! People such as yourself and Malek Jandali, to name just a couple, make us truly proud to be Syrians, indeed!

Keep enriching the world with your knowledge and never let that flow dry, in the hope that it might, one day, reach some of the not so priviledged ones who need to open their eyes and learn something...

Unknown said...

Ok...THIS is GOLD!! Wow!! I was completely intrigued with the history...musical notes on a tablet...I love this kind of stuff! They should make a movie!! :) And then Mr. Jandali...what beautiful music! I really want the rest of his stuff...going for download! Thank you, Abufares! Thank you so much for broadening my horizons once again.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you approve:-)
Indeed I'm digging deeper into the past and the further I go back the more amazing discoveries I find.
Thank you for the link and for those you provided earlier.

Unknown said...

@Ruslan Trad

Many thanks for the link. I read the very interesting interview and was very pleased to discover your blog along the way :-)

Unknown said...

I visited Ugarit on a school trip. While I researched this post I felt guilty for not going back there again. It is only an hour drive from Tartous and it's located in one of the most beautiful areas in Syria.
Your suggestion for a summer volunteer camp is fantastic. I hope it becomes real one day so that the new generations learn the importance of keeping their feet on this ancient ground while looking with hope at the future anywhere in the world.

Unknown said...

Syria is an ancient land not in ruins only but in the magnificent tapestry of her peoples.
But of course a city is female. I would've stopped traveling if it were otherwise.

A wise Frenchman once wrote:
“J’ai des mémoires de villes comme on a des mémoires d’amour”.

"Tengo recuerdos de las ciudades, ya que hay recuerdos de amor."

Unknown said...

So nice of you to drop by. Thank you for your kind words. When I write about Syria, the way I do, it's never out of vanity. I like the whole world to know the simple truth which has been totally forgotten, first due to OUR own negligence and then due to the fact that those who wrote the book after WWII intentionally falsified history.

More people today, especially in the West, believe that the Old Testament, in addition to being of divine origin, is the earliest accurate account of the history of civilization.
It is neither!
Truth is much more profound. The first humans started in East Africa (Ethiopia) and the first civilizations started in the Levant and Mesopotamia. They went on for thousands of years with hundreds of deities until the first Alphabet of Ugarit. Monotheist religions became natural evolutionary stages along the path and so did later on Science.
When the Western world rids itself of the entrenched Zionist guilt, the truth is there for all to see.
It is simply beautiful.

Unknown said...

We all know who's making the movies Isobel don't we ;-)

I am as intrigued by history as you are. It doesn't fascinate me only because a great deal of it was written here on my land but rather of how little we know about it. When I was in middle school they taught us most of the stuff I'm writing about today but it never stuck in my mind back then. History is a story to be appreciated and enjoyed because it's stranger and more wonderful than fiction.

The music of Malek Jandali is exceptionally beautiful. You have a great "ear" among other things and I'm so happy that I was able (even if in the smallest of ways) to shed a feeble light along your chosen path to knowledge.

I have to thank you for broadening MY horizons and teaching me about your wonderful Canada and the New World. History might be a thing of the past for us here but it's so exciting to be living in a beautiful country where it is being made today:-)

Unknown said...

@Dubai Jazz

It is certain that the oldest "discovered" musical notation in the world is this one found in the 1950s in Ugarit, Syria.

The 3400 BC cuneiform signs were scribbled in the Hurian language along with the musical symbols at the bottom.

The song was a hymn to the Moon God's wife Nikkal (an ancient Syrian Goddess of the orchard and the night).

This piece of music has been transcribed by several academicians and musicians but Malek Jandali's rendition is, in my opinion, the most magical and only "Syrian' one.

BIL said...

Once again you have sent me back to the school house to learn about your country's vast rich history. To read a post such as this forces one to re-think the entire beginnings of advanced civilization. One has to ask the question of "why" the early achievements from the eastern Mediterranean are so often over looked. From the materials which were used to teach us a young children, the origins and credits always appeared to be from "somewhere" farther west of today's Syria. I truly enjoyed today's "history lesson". Please keep them coming <;-)

Shadi HIJAZI said...


Wonderful, thank you very much for another great post :)

@Dubai Jazz

I am afraid you are referring to a very modern music piece "NeyNava - Song of Compassion" by the contemporary Iranian musician Hossein Alizadeh. That one is only 25 years old, although a masterpiece. I hope I am mistaken :)
Listen to samples here

Nancy Reyes said...

linked to my blog.

Lovely said...

Many thanks ,

Unknown said...

I always appreciate your motivating comments. It makes me feel good that you and other readers are discovering new facts about the world. True, I'm concentrating on Syria but that's the least I can do for this land I've called home all of my life.

Unknown said...


Thank you for dropping by. Always a pleasure

Unknown said...

Many thanks for linking. I really appreciate it.

Unknown said...


Thank you for coming my way. Looking forward seeing you here again.

Karin said...

That is fantastic - I had no idea! I love history in general but to find out where things indeed originated from, what people, time, country, culture ... is fascinating!
I love the way Malek Jandali plays the song ... he adds a lot of soul and emotion! It is as if the past is knocking on the door and saying " ... thanks for finding me - I am back!" FASCINATING!!!

Thanks for a GREAT post dear friend!!

Unknown said...


Hello dear friend.
I'm fascinated with ancient history. With the early discoveries and inventions, with the rise of early civilizations.
Echos of Ugarit has been hunting me over the last week at least. I have it on my desktop and I repeatdly find myself playing it over and over again.
The other day I simply had it on auto-repeat and I spent my evening writing and listening.
Fascinating indeed!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Abu Fares,
What i can say :well done!
Very interesting article.
Thank you,Thank you.


Rabi Tawil (AKA Abu Kareem) said...

Abu Fares,

I am beaming from ear to ear. Thank you for making a Ladkani very proud.

KJ said...

Thank you Abu Fares for bringing this to light. I have heard of Malek Jandali but you're the only one (aside from my grade 7 History teacher) that makes history interesting to look into and not complicated

Ruslan Trad said...

Thank you for your words,Abufares!

Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your comment.

Unknown said...

@Abu Kareem
My dear neighbor. You've been greatly missed and I'm so happy I was able to put a smile on your face.

Unknown said...

I wish I had a history teacher like the one you had in 7th grade. All I only remember some stupid and meaningless dates from my high school years.
I fell in love with history much later through working on a restoration project of the old city of Tartous. I felt very stupid when I worked with European colleagues who knew more about my land than myself and decided to put an end to that.
I'm glad to say that I find the study of ancient history now one of the most fascinating hobbies of mine and I'm getting to be quite good at it :-)

Unknown said...

@Ruslan Trad
Always more than welcome :-)

Joseph said...

What a joy this is, to be here, Abufares. The history, the music and the poetry of things, all things. One cannot help but applaud you, perhaps more for all the things you love and all the things you contentedly share with us. The lantern in your outstretched hand, summon our arrival,far off and near.

Unknown said...

Your comments are always more eloquent than the words they describe :-)
I appreciate your support and the mere fact that you enjoy my writing.
A post is not complete and put aside until you visit.

Anonymous said...

Abufares said and I quote:"I find it interesting that the root of the word phonetic as per modern English dictionaries is considered Greek (from phōnētikós from phōneîn to speak). Is it really? Why stop there? Where did phōneîn come from? What was the name of those people living on the Eastern Mediterranean (in today's Syria and Lebanon)? Phoenicians :-) How convenient?"

This reminds of the movie "my big fat greek wedding" where the father in his little wedding speech said that the groom's last name Miller came from the greek word Milos which meant apples in greek and the brides family name was portokalis which meant oranges in greek. So they are apples and oranges.

Miller did not come from Milos and phōneîn did not come from phoenician. Similarity does not imply relation.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry I misquoted Gus Portokalos he actually was much funnier than I portrayed him to be.
Full and accurate quote follows from " My big fat greek wedding"

Gus Portokalos: I was thinking last night … the night before my daughter was going to marry Ian Miller … that the root of the word “miller” is a Greek word. And “miller” come from the Greek word milo, which is mean "apple." There you go. As many of you know, our name Portokalos is come from the Greek word portokali, which means "orange." So, okay here tonight, we have apple and orange. We all different but, in the end, we all fruit.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comments. It is a very good movie indeed.

My statement was "I find it interesting" rather than claiming that my reasoning is infallibly true. That, however, does not mean that your own statement: "phōneîn did not come from phoenician" is any closer to the truth than mine.

I find it more interesting still and in light of the fact that agriculture started in the Levant that the Greek word for Oranges is Portokalos. The word for Oranges in Arabic (a language of Semitic origins) is Bortokal.

Don't we all like coincidences :-)

Anonymous said...

I knew you are going to say that. To follow the same logic: The country of Portugal which produces tons of "Bortokal" is named after that too and not Portus Cale.
Your are very funny Abu Fares.

Anonymous said...

Joking aside, the country of Portugal is the origin of the name "Bortokal", "Portokalos" and even "Portekal" in persian. The arabs and persians contributed the name orange from naranj and the regional/local citrus called atraj or etrog in hebrew.

Unknown said...

Who said the truth should be solemn and boring. Life itself could be a big joke if we look at it from the right angle.

I brought in Bortokal expecting you to hit me with Portugal:-) I wonder what is the origin of (Lemon & Leymoun)since we both seem to be so interested in Citrus etymology. Well actually I do know the answer to this one too.

[Middle English limon, from Old French, from Old Italian limone, from Arabic laymūn, līmūn, from Persian līmūn.]

My point is that in "Phoenician Alphabet" and "Phonetic Alphabets", the similarity of the first word is too much for my inner sense of right and wrong to accept and take it for granted that... Uh it's from the Greek root phōneîn.

Until science proves me wrong, my hypothesis stands correct :-)

Please comment under a more fictive name than Anonymous. It would certainly help you making your point stronger, lollll.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Keep On Walking Lyrics

Don't you come home
It's not very far
I wait up each night
For the sound of your car
Well, well, well we both knew it wouldn't be easy
Oh how we both knew it wouldn't be easy
Oh yeah yeah, oh I never thought it would ever be, ever be this hard

It's been three weeks, since I got a decent sleep
I've a restless head and an empty bed, these dreams are killing me so

Keep on walking til the sun comes up
Keep on walking and the sun comes up
Keep on walking til the sun comes up
Keep on walking til the sun comes up

I'm bored and alone (I'm bored and alone)
It's been far too long (It's been far too long)
Well don't you come home (ohhh)
It's where you belong
Well, well, well
We all could do with the money
Oh how we all could do with the money
Oh yeah yeah, oh what's the use of the money
When we ain't got no time

It's been three weeks, since I go a decent sleep
I've a restless head and an empty bed, these dreams are killing me so

I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
Repeat x 3

I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
Repeat x 3

I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
Repeat x 3

I'll keep on walking till the sun comes up
I keep on walking yeeaah
I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
I'll keep on walking yeeaah
I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
I'll keep on walking yeeaah
I'll keep on walking til the sun comes up
I'll keep on walking yeah yeeah

Fictive said...

Very funny Abu Fares, I hope you meant to. Thank you for the lemon infos I suggest that we now move to bandora, banadora or tamatem, batteekh and Koussa. I would love to know how the levant, in light of the fact that agriculture started there, influenced the naming of these produce. Hoping also that it will break us out of the citrus etymology rut.

On a different note I am assuming that the [:-)] at the end of your statement "My point is that in "Phoenician Alphabet" and "Phonetic Alphabets", the similarity of the first word is too much for my inner sense of right and wrong to accept and take it for granted that... Uh it's from the Greek root phōneîn. Until science proves me wrong, my hypothesis stands correct :-)" means that you are joking, otherwise you have successfully managed to cram multiple logical fallacies and redefine science and the scientific method in a few sentences.-Science according to Tartoussi. :-)

Previously anonymous, now Fictive

Joseph said...

For three days and three nights, Abufares, I have tried to find words fit for a response, to yet another, sublime and humbling statement of yours!
Alas, it's like trying to catch the wind.
Thank you my friend.

Unknown said...


Oh come on!!! Stop taking everything so seriously.
Science according to a tartoussi indeed and why not?

Unknown said...


Always welcome my friend

Fictive said...

Wake up and smell the shankleesh funny boy. If you did not get I will spell out for you:
S a r c a s m

BIL said...


It is sad that some of your readership must revert to sarcasm. Funny, entertaining or enlightening it is not. I think that (my own opinion only) they should try to escape to a parallel universe to dispense their venom. You deserve better and OBTW this was a very informative post and look forward to more.

Unknown said...

Don't worry dear friend. I never take compliments, complaints, staidness or sarcasm seriously.
Even art and science could be best "enjoyed" with a dash of sweet humor.

The moment we stop daring we might as well withdraw and cancel the trip. I still find it interesting that modern western civilization is unaware of its own roots.
As far as I'm concerned phōneîn originated from Phoenician. It is up to each individual reader to agree or disagree. In either case, I'm having one hell of a good time voicing my one-sided opinions, self-centered rants and provincial recipes.

Fantasia Lillith said...

Oh what a treat this post was!!