A mandolin (Italian: mandolino) is a musical instrument in the lute family (plucked, or strummed). It descends from the mandore, a soprano member of the lute family. The mandolin soundboard (the top) comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. A mandolin may have f-holes, or a single round or oval sound hole. A round or oval sound hole may be bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling, but usually does not feature an intricately carved grille like a Baroque era mandolin.
Early mandolins had six double courses of gut strings, tuned similarly to lutes, and plucked with the fingertips. Modern mandolins—which originated in Naples, Italy in the late 18th century—commonly have four double courses (four pairs) of metal strings, which are plucked with a plectrum.
Mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the deep bowled mandolin, produced particularly in Naples, became common in the nineteenth century. The original instrument was the mandore, which evolved in the fourteenth century from the lute. Over time and as the instrument spread around Europe, it took on many names and various structural characteristics.
Further back, dating to around 15,000 BC to 8000 BC, single-stringed instruments have been seen in cave paintings and murals. They were struck, plucked, and eventually bowed. From these, the families of stringed instruments developed. Single strings were long and gave a single melody line. To shorten the scale length, other strings were added with a different tension and pitch so one string took over where another left off. In turn, this led to being able to play dyads and chords. The bowed family became the rabob, and then the rebec fiddle, evolving into the modern violin family by 1520 (incidentally also in Italy). The plucked family led to lute-like instruments in 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and developed into the oud or ud before appearing in Spain, first documented around 711 AD, courtesy of the Moors.