London, March 28 : A group of American audio historians have discovered a recording of the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune" that was recorded on April 9, 1860-almost two decades before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
The team believes that their discovery is the oldest recognisable recording of the human voice.
The 10-second clip was originally recorded by a phonautograph, a device created by a Parisian inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, which captured a visual record of sound. Scott used his device to scratch sound waves onto paper that was blackened with the smoke from an oil lamp.
To make it playable, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif then converted it into audio, thus robbing Edison of the honour long accorded him as the first man to successfully record sound.
Edison's recording of himself reciting 'Mary had a little lamb', recorded on a tinfoil cylinder and no longer playable, dates from 1877. The first playable recording is thought to be from a performance of a Handel oratorio at Crystal Palace in 1888.
The 148 year-old milestone was announced by First Sounds, a collection of audio engineers and archivists who helped coordinate the work that went into demonstrating Scott's achievement.
Lead scientists Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni were able to make high-quality scans in December and February of phonautograph recordings held in France's patent office and the Academie des Sciences.
Among them were Scott's experimental phonautograms from as early as 1853, and more advanced ones made in 1860.
Giovannoni sent scans of the recording to the Berkeley Lab where they were painstakingly converted into sound by scientists using technology designed to salvage historic recordings.
"The sound waves were remarkably clear and clean," Times Online quoted Giovannoni, as saying.
Scott's recordings are to be presented at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, at Stanford University in California.