File:Stone Bell, Lalibela, Ethiopia (3301400456).jpg

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We passed this stone bell on our way from one church to another at Lalibela, Ethiopia. I've since learned the term for a stone bell is a "lithophone" or a "phonolith." Another way to describe this instrument would be to call it a "phonolithic stone bell."

The bell is a bar-shaped piece of stone suspended horizontally by ropes from a long piece of timber. Each end of the timber is elevated above a high wall carved out of sold rock. While the bell's weight causes the timber to sag, the bell remains several inches above the top of the rock wall. As it happens, there's a dip in the stone wall below the bell.

For a clapper, the Ethiopians use an ovoid cobble, seen here resting on the bell. When the clapper strikes the stone bell, it produces a ringing sound surprisingly similar to a traditional European metal bell.

While I was aware that sets of jade bars had been used as percussion instruments in ancient China, I didn't know a similar tradition of lithic (i.e., stone) musical instruments existed in Ethiopia.

The ropes supporting stone bell look relatively new. That makes sense when you consider the probable weight of the stone bar. It the bell was selected and shaped with care, and if it is old, its owners would want to take reasonable precautions to keep it from falling.

Here are a few things I'd like to know about this instrument:

> How old is the stone bar that constitutes the bell? Looking at the bell in the photo, I didn't see any grooves in the stone from prolonged contact with the support ropes. I don't know what to make of that information without knowing how hard the stone is.

> How is the stone used in the bell selected; how much labor goes into shaping the bell; and does the maker select the stone with a particular shape in mind, or do the dimensions of the raw rock determine the shape of the finished bell?

> In selecting and shaping the stone bar, what effort, if any, is made to tune the bar to produce a particular tone?

> Is the distance between the bell and the supporting timber and/or the ground surface significant?

> Was the cobble clapper selected specifically for this bell, or will any cobble having the general shape and size of the one pictured suffice?

> Was the cobble shaped before being put into service as a clapper?

> On what occasions is the bell used?

> How long has the location shown here served as a belfry, so to speak?

Anyone who knows the answer to any of these questions and is willing to share them with me and my flickr viewers will earn my eternal gratitude. The way the US economy is performing, it may not be long before that is all I have left to offer!

Source Stone Bell, Lalibela, Ethiopia
Author A. Davey from Where I Live Now: Pacific Northwest


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