> Skip to content
  • Published: 1 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529927634
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 416

Sound Tracks

Uncovering Our Musical Past




A History of the World in 100 Objects meets Sapiens: the first archaeological history of humanity's musical heritage, in fifty detective stories.

Here is the history of humankind's relationship with music in fifty detective stories.

Sound Tracks is a transporting and extraordinary voyage of discovery, each chapter a time-machine focusing on musical finds uncovered in archaeological digs around the world. From the present day all the way back to the dawn of time; from dark caves, murky swamps and open deserts to rivers, oceans and the depths of the earth, we can now hear the past release its musical secrets.

As we enter the sound worlds of those who knew them, we rediscover long-lost musical experiences. We imagine the delight of a child in Peru in AD 700, playing with a water-filled pot designed to chirp like a bird; we shiver with a lonely soldier sending signals by trumpet to the next watchtower on Hadrian's Wall; we can sway to the stately rhythms of the sixty-four large bells buried in a tomb in China in the 5th century BC.

On this grand tour through some of the world's greatest musical discoveries, we learn that music is part of what makes us human – not just as a pastime or religious expression but as a way of commemorating our pasts, communicating with each other, and shaping our lives.

Brimming with astonishing insights, Sound Tracks provides an enthralling alternative history of humanity in which the silences of the past are filled with a treasure hoard of vanished sounds and voices. As if by magic, we find ourselves eavesdropping on lost music across the centuries.

  • Published: 1 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529927634
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 416

About the author

Graeme Lawson

Graeme Lawson is an extraordinary polymath: an archaeologist, musicologist, scientist, instrument-maker and performer who has been at the forefront of music archaeology for his entire career. He earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge and was elected Fellow of his college at just twenty-five. Sound Tracks is his first trade book.

Praise for Sound Tracks

In exploring the historical traces humankind has left of our music-making, Graeme Lawson captures the full scope of the ingenuity and passion that we have brought to this mysterious yet universal and vital impulse. You’ll encounter instruments you never knew existed, find yourself humming the songs of the Bronze Age, and ponder the connections between our own musicality and that we see in other animals. It’s a thrilling journey into the sonic richness of human experience

Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct

A very rare object – a book where you learn something new about music on every single page. Graeme Lawson piles revelation upon revelation to shed a completely new perspective on the tools we use for making music

Norman Lebrecht, author of Why Beethoven

This is surely one of the most unusual and original histories of music that has been written, recovering a sense of the sounds of the distant past through rare survivals of musical instruments and even a tune recorded on a Bronze Age tablet. Out of the silence of the earth Graeme Lawson has brilliantly conjured up the sounds of 30,000 years of human history

David Abulafia, Professor Emeritus of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge

Reveals the sounds that ancient musicians could have created and gives credit to the craftsmen and women who routinely pushed-back the boundaries of past technologies to fashion musical instruments. It's a magical book

Francis Pryor, author of A Fenland Garden

A delightfully quirky tour through the history and prehistory of music in the company of a master

Adam Zamoyski, author of Napoleon