Historians believe harp-like instruments emerged in ancient Egypt around 3000 B.C. and then appeared in their modern angled form in Asia around 1500 B.C. Harps depicted on cave drawings from ancient Egypt were structured like hunting bows, which are the objects historians credit with inspiring the shape of the harp. However, Asians refined the harp's shape by adding a sound box and solid pillar for support.
Early harps featured long, thin strands made from organic materials such as plant fibers. Harps varied in style and even playing position depending on the region of origin. In many parts of Greece and Rome, harps existed as vertical instruments, and players plucked their strings using both hands. In the Mesopotamian region, however, harps existed as horizontal instruments. Players placed the harps in their laps and used plectrums for plucking the strings.
Harps rank among the oldest instruments in the world. They enjoyed widespread use in ancient Egypt and Asia. Harps migrated elsewhere, enjoying a brief popularity in India and the Middle East before suddenly dying out. Harps reappeared in Europe, however, during the 9th century. Their shape changed slightly from earlier versions, heavily influenced by the Gothic look. Gothic harps featured elongated necks and slender torsos for an elegant look. Chromatic harps emerged during the 16th century, appearing as instruments with two or three rows of strings.