Could ancient humans make percussion from rocks? Let’s explore the oldest percussion instruments in the world!

A lithophone is a musical instrument consisting of pieces of rock that produce musical notes when a performer strikes it.

The lithophone is an idiophone just like glockenspiel, vibraphone, etc. So, what is an idiophone? An idiophone is any musical instrument that creates sound by the instrument as a whole vibrating. Similarly, when a performer strikes the lithophone with mallets, it vibrates as a whole. So that, it can produce sounds. In other words, we can call them ringing rocks.

A lithophone performance from YouTube

The History of Lithophone

The lithophone dates back to between 2500 and 8000 BC (The New Stone Age or Neolithic Era). For example, scientists found rock gongs from various African Neolithic sites. Bernard Fagg found the first of rock gongs in Nigeria, in June 1955. According to him, early humans played them by striking their surface with a stone. Also, Fagg believed that cave paintings and rock gongs are related somehow.

Lithophone Examples

Here are some other examples of lithophones around the world.


  • Angola – The Chockwe people used stone handbells.
  • Mali – Likewise, the Dogon people used lithophones.


  • Hawaii – Before guitar and ukulele, hula dancers used pairs of stone castanets.
  • Argentina – In Santa Rosa de Tastil, local people use special quartz they called Tastil to create lithophones. Tastil means ‘rock that sounds’.
  • Colombia – The people from the region of La Chorrera used granite gongs to communicate across distances.
  • Mexico – The Mixtec people used stone columns for musical purposes.


  • Azerbaijan – There are ancient rock drawings in the caves of Gobustan, Azerbaijan. They include depictions of dancing. Also, there is a resonating rock called Gaval-Dashy. So, the early humans danced to the accompaniment of the sound of this stone.
  • China – Bian Ch’ing is an instrument that dates back to Ancient China.
  • India -Archaeologists found prehistoric lithophones at Odisha, India.
  • Japan – Some of the Buddhist temples in Japan contain stone chime bars similar to those from China.
  • Java – The Java people made the first examples of gamelan gongs from stone.
  • Korea – Like Japan, Korea adopted stone chime bars for ceremonial use.
  • Mongolia – Shuulun Tsargel is a musical instrument whose stones are suspended by cords on a frame.
  • Uzbekistan – Kayrak is a form of stone castanet that Uzbek people played two in each hand. Similar to other cultures, they used it to accompany dancing.
  • Vietnam – Archaeologists found many groups of stones with various pitches in Vietnam. Some people still use them.


  • Finland – Archaeologists found rock gongs in the region of Karelia. So, the Saami people also used them for ceremonies.
  • France – There are several examples of ringing stones in France.
  • Portugal – The Escoural Painted Cave in Evora contains rock paintings. Also, the stalactites in the cave show signs of having been repeatedly struck. So, the use of stones in music may go back to the Paleolithic Period.


  • New Zealand – The Maori people used stones in their music.

In conclusion, there are many other sites around the world whose people used stones as lithophones.

Modern Uses

  • Carl Orff used a lithophone called Steinspiel in his later works.
  • Likewise, Icelandic Composer Elias Davidsson has used lithophones.
  • Also, in the 19th Century, Honoré Baudre created an instrument out of flint. Therefore, he called it a Geological Piano.
  • Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós played a stone marimba.

See Also

Outbound Links

Lithophone Wikipedia Page

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