In the summer of 2002, a piece about the Soft Eject group
was broadcast on the television. Viewers
found out that the group was playing a 3,300 year old musical instrument discovered 64 years ago in a
Samtavro burial ground…
This amazing world of constant connection established between the generations, has influenced
our decision to publish this article…
Back in 1937, the archaeological excavations in the Mtskheta
region were initiated and headed by the academicians Ivane Javakhishvili
and Simon Janashia. In 1938-1948 a multi-layer burial ground stretching
across 18 hectares in Samtavro, the northern suburb of Mtskheta, was dug.
The expeditions have discovered over two thousand tombs.
According to the anthropologists, the sixty-four skulls found in the brass age layer excavated at the Samtavro burial ground in 1938-48 belonged to the Mediterranean branch of the European race. The uncovered material testifies that our ancestors living in the vicinity of Samtavro in the II millennium BC - that is in the late Brass Age, were engaged in animal husbandry, horse breeding, the production of earthenware crockery and metallurgy. Archaeologists assumed that the stones that were arranged in a circle around the tombs proved the existence of the cult of the Sun. Miniature kvevris (vessels for drinking wine) and even toy butter churns were discovered along with ordinary crockery in the children's tombs. The women's tombs were abundant with various items of jewelry such as the antimonite, sardion and clay paste necklaces, bracelets, brass anklets, etc.
Archaeologists have named one of the tombs, which was dug
in 1938 in the northern part of the burial ground, “A little shepherd's
grave” because a flute without a mouthpiece made from a hollow swan bone
was found along with other items next to the skeleton of a young man lying
on his right side. The archaeologists were surprised to find a flute having
no mouthpiece and assumed that the musical instrument might have had a
wooden lip-holder, which could have disappeared in the earth over the course
of time. It happened that one of the workers digging the tomb had overheard
the archaeologists arguing; he took the flute in his hands and started
We met with one of the former members of the Soft Eject band, a researcher of musical folklore, Mr. Gia Karchkhadze and asked him to tell us about this unique musical instrument:
Several years ago a decision was made jointly with the Cultural Heritage Protection Fund of Georgia to compile a catalogue of Georgian folk instruments. This work was undertaken in two stages: the first stage was dedicated to recording all the folk musical instruments that are still being played today. The project was implemented in conjunction with Edisher Garakanidze but after the tragic death of the renowned folklorist, it was temporarily suspended. After a certain period of time, the project was resumed together with the head of the Anchiskhati choir, the folk music researcher, Mr. Malkhaz Erkvanidze. All the masters of Georgian folk instruments who could be found were brought from all parts of Georgia. Sixteen musical instruments were recorded. Only the player of the larchem-soinari instrument could not be found. This stage lasted for two years.
The second stage was dedicated to the preparation of the obtained material for publication and to rendering commercial appearance to it.
Mr. Karchkhadze recollects: I recalled that a very ancient instrument - a flute made of bone exists. We made up our minds to have a look at the instrument and include it in the catalogue as the most ancient specimen of Georgian folk musical instruments. In my opinion, however, the term “folk” might sound conventional in relation to this instrument because it could be considered as designed for ritualistic or other purposes. It is a topic that still needs to be studied. This was the reason that we paid a visit to the Janashia State Historic Museum together with the Soft Eject flute player - Sandro Nikoladze. Sandro is an incredibly gifted person. He can play any musical instrument and he manages to make all these instruments play in tune. However, even such a distinguished master as Sandro found it very difficult and struggled half an hour to make this instrument emit wonderful sounds (at different times Messrs Grigol Chkhikvadze, Gia Chelidze and Omar Kelaptrishvili have played this instrument). When the musician started to play the flute, we heard the notes, which were not incidental at all. Astonished, I could not believe my ears. All this was really stunning. In her brochure “Historical-ethnographic aspects of Georgian folk music”, Nino Maisuradze makes the following assumption: “The Georgian archi-melody that is the musical base language is made up of deep intonations of the quart range; this is the major base, from which the Georgian melody develops.” It is as if to testify this view that the sounds of the most ancient Pshavian melody “Esti-esti” performed on a flute by Sandro Nikoladze, started to flow within the walls of the Museum.
The folk musical arrangement does not match the medieval Bach temperament (in Latin “temperato” means correct conformity, proportional arrangement). Various arrangements existed prior to this temperament. It was Pythagoras, the ancient Greek scientist who developed the principles of the contemporary temperament. Due to the fact that the instrument emits extremely harmonious sounds, when measuring these dimensions I was interested to find out whether our flute would match that of Pythagoras' by the hertz arrangement. It turned out that there was no conformity with the Pythagoras system and that the Georgian musical order must be an older arrangement preceding that of Pythagoras'. The flute is some seven or eight centuries older than the ancient Hellenistic discovery. This harmony seems to have been based on a formula, which has not been explained to date. In addition, this instrument happened to have another strange characteristic, namely, its tone varies with the changing of the angle of declination, which does not seem to be incidental either!
Unfortunately, we were unable to include within the scope of this small article all the immensely interesting and unexplained issues pertaining to the archaic flute as well as the roots and links of Georgian folk music in general. We do hope, however, that this modest article of ours will arouse curiosity among those people or organizations interested in this matter and encourage them to render assistance to unique Georgian folklore and the Georgian polyphony on the verge of new discoveries.
Taking this opportunity, we want to convey our gratitude to the management of the State Historic Museum of Georgia and its employees who have given us their selfless support.