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