Extinct Instruments: 5 musical instruments that time forgot

Posted on: 08 October 2019

The Mayan Trumpets - Just one of the musical instruments that time forgot

Musical instruments have been around for at least 37,000 years and have developed extensively over time, evolving into the refined and tuneful instruments we know and love today. But what about those instruments that time has forgotten? We’ve done some research.

1) The Sambuca

This might not be the first thing that pops into your mind when we say sambuca, but many years ago it was known for being a musical instrument. It was most popular during the Roman, Athenian and Macedonian times and is most likely compared to a harp in design. Although not much is known about this stringed instrument, it’s said to have an ‘exotic’ sound that was used during symposiums and worships. It consisted of an actual tortoise shell as a soundbox (or a wooden resonator made to look like a tortoise shell) and a wooden/animal horn arm.

The Sambuca

The Gue

2) The Gue

Originally from Scotland and most commonly seen in the Shetland Islands, the gue had very similar characteristics to a violin, however was played in almost the same way as a cello. It only had 2 strings which were made of horse hair. Sadly, the last sighting of this interesting instrument was 1809.

3) The Mayan Trumpets

The mayan trumpets have been extinct for centuries and we only know of their existence due to fascinating murals, painted vases and references in literature.  They originated from Chiapas, Mexico and were very important for the Mayans. They were used to greet visitors and to accompany the king on his visits, however they were also used in religious ceremonies, celebrations, hunting and at war. Due to the powerful sound that they could create, they could be heard from a far distance.

Mayan Trumpets Mural

The Lituus

4) The Lituus

The lituus was a large trumpet like instrument that was used in ancient Rome during religious rituals – the Latin word lituus roughly translates to curved war-trumpet. It was a high pitched brass instrument that could have also been used as a signalling horn by the Roman army. The next time the instrument has cropped up in history was in J.S. Bach's motet ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ (BWV 118). Written c.1736 Bach likely wrote the piece to be performed at funerals.  Scientists from the University of Edinburgh tried to recreate the lituus in May 2009, in the form of a long wooden trumpet.

5) The Asor

Although there is little information on the asor, it is said to date back to biblical times and is mentioned in the Bible as an instrument of ten strings Historians are not entirely sure what it was made of or what it looked like, but hint towards it having similar traits to a nevel (image to right), which was a stringed instrument used by the ancient Hebrew people, they also suggest similar characteristic to a guitar or banjo.

The Nevel


We hope you’ve found it interesting to look back at these instruments no longer played by musicians. We wonder what will become extinct as time goes on…


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