Jew’s harp found with skeletons in Leuven

Road workers in Leuven have made a fascinating discovery on the Sint-Jacobsplein in Leuven: a grave containing two skeletons possibly dating from as early as the 16th century.  The most spectacular aspect of this discovery is the fact that one of the skeletons was buried together with a Jew’s harp.

The Sint-Jacobsplein in Leuven dates from the 13th century and was only modernised as recently as the 19th century. The two skeletons were buried outside the churchyard.  This only happened in special circumstances:  to unbelievers, to people condemned to death or people who died of plague, for instance.  There were many other reasons too.  So it’s difficult to find out why specifically these two people, who were probably buried at the same time, were buried outside the churchyard.

One of the skeletons was buried with a Jew’s harp: a small metal instrument consisting of a small lyre-shaped metal frame held between the teeth with a steel tongue plucked with the finger.  Changes in pitch are produced by varying the size of the mouth cavities. Leuven city archaeologist Lisa Van Ransbeeck believes this individual was buried together with the instrument as it was often worn as a trinket around the neck.  Further research on the two skeletons is planned.

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