Reidentifying the wood of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Reidentifying the wood of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps

11 November 2015


Identifying the wood of the surviving historical wire-strung harps of Ireland and Highland Scotland has long been an important goal of researchers and instrument-builders. In 1969, microscopic examination of the anatomical features of the wood of two of the earliest surviving harps of this type, the Queen Mary and Lamont of National Museums Scotland, identified all parts of both as European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Due to the importance of these two harps as early exemplars, this identification has had far-reaching implications for understanding the construction practices for this type of historical harp. Questions about the identification of the woods of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps have prompted a re-evaluation. In this article, we discuss the observations and evidence that led to our decision to reidentify the wood of both harps, including the use of X-ray computed tomography to test the earlier identification of all wooden members as the same species. A rigorous new identification has been undertaken that addresses the fragile state of the wood and the need to minimize the impact on these important musical artefacts by revising the sampling method and utilizing scanning electron microscopy as an alternative to conventional microscopic examination. The results of our work to date are presented, and the implications for these two harps and for other harps of this type are discussed.


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