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Blast from the Past

SEASHELL HORN An 18,000-year-old horn made from a seashell can still make sounds. GEORGES GOBET—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A conch shell discovered 90 years ago in France is now thought to be the oldest instrument of its kind. Researchers say it's about 18,000 years old.

The shell was found in a cave in France's Pyrenees region in 1931. Archaeologists thought it was an ancient cup. For decades, it sat in a natural history museum in the city of Toulouse. But recently, researchers took a fresh look at the shell. They found that the tip had been broken off to make a mouthpiece and sound holes had been added. When you blow into it, the shell can play three clear notes.

Rasoul Morteza, a composer in Canada, has studied the sounds produced by shells. "It's amazing when there's an object forgotten somewhere," he says, "and suddenly, it comes again into the light."