The Origin of the Horsehead Violin and the Vinca Culture Gusle

November 21, 2019 — The “morin khuur,” or the horsehead violin, is an ancient musical instrument said to emit the cry of a dying horse. It is widespread across Mongolia, where it has remained popular to this day.

Legend has it a horse lord shepherd of the ancient Eurasian steppes invented the horsehead violin in honor of his dead pegasus (a flying horse), on which he rode across the skies every night to meet his one true love.

A jealous horse lord rival wanted the shepherd’s woman for himself. Thus, the rival cut off the shepherd’s horse’s wings and killed the magical pegasus. In his grief, the shepherd created the two-stringed “moorin khur” violin (some call it fiddle) in his horse’s honor. The shepherd used hair from one female and one male horse, to symbolize the love for the woman he would never see again. From then on, during all day and all night, the shepherd played emotional songs on his two-stringed violin. However, the songs where not about the love of the woman he would never see again — the shepherd only played music dedicated to his dead horse.

Interestingly, a nearly identical instrument called a “gusle” is common in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans which is in the vicinity of the Vinca culture. The main difference between the “morin khuur” and the gusle, is that the latter is decorated by a Capricorn’s goat-like head, not a horse. Archeologists have proposed various theories of the gusle instrument’s origin, and one controversial hypothesis suggests the gusle is an instrument pre-dating known history, dating back to Neanderthal times — ca 40,000 years ago.

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