Carnyx – an Ancient Celtic Horn

Metalwork doesn’t confine itself to things like jewelry or hollowware. No, pretty much anything can be made out of metal. I often forget about musical instruments and the metal techniques that go into making them. It’s been a tradition since ancient times.

Gundestrup Cauldron Plate E (photo courtesy of On the right are three Carnyx players depicted during battle.

It just so happens that some of my favorite ancient metalworkers, the Celts, had a particular type of bronze horn called a Carnyx. How did I find out about it? My husband mysteriously left a Yahoo search for it up and I stumbled across it after he went away.

It immediately caught my eye because the bell is shaped like an animal’s head. Most of those found have depicted boars, but there was also a serpent like creature found in the Tintignac hoard in France. Many of them even had moveable tongues and lower jaws.

The horn is “S” shaped and held vertically so the sound bell is about 3 meters above the ground. This was useful since it was used primarily in battle and the sound could be heard above the heads of troops or during ceremonies.

There have been a number of these horns reconstructed and used by reenactors. On the Wikipedia site you can even listen to a carnyx being played. It’s quite haunting.