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Earliest known musical instrument. Ever!


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The link has someone playing a replica. I would DIE to know if the replica is accurate enough so that the notes are the same as when initially made; to know if the sounds were random, or fit into some scale-type structure.


I hope they find another, wouldn't that be something if we found they were made to spec, and the holes not just randomly placed!


"The well-tempered bone flute" :)




The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/science/25flute.html?hp

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June 25, 2009

Stone Age Flutes Are Window Into Early Music



At least 35,000 years ago, in the depths of the last ice age, the sound of music filled a cave in what is now southwestern Germany, the same place and time early Homo sapiens were also carving the oldest known examples of figurative art in the world.


Music and sculpture expressions of artistic creativity, it seems were emerging in tandem among some of the first modern humans when they first began spreading through Europe or soon after.


Archaeologists reported Wednesday the discovery last fall of a bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes that they said represent the earliest known flowering of music-making in Stone Age culture. They said the bone flute with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave in the hills west of Ulm, was by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves in a region where pieces of other flutes have been turning up in recent years.


A three-hole flute carved from mammoth ivory was uncovered a few years ago at another cave, as well as two flutes made from wing bones of a mute swan. In the same cave, archaeologists also found beautiful carvings of animals.


But until now the artifacts appeared to be too rare and not as precisely dated to support wider interpretations of the early rise of music. The earliest solid evidence of music instruments had previously come from France and Austria, but dated well after 30,000 years ago.


In an article published online by the journal Nature, Nicholas J. Conard of the University of Tübingen, in Germany, and colleagues wrote, These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe.


Although radiocarbon dates earlier than 30,000 years ago can be imprecise, samples from the bones and associated material were tested independently by two laboratories, in England and Germany, using different methods. Scientists said the data agreed on ages of at least 35,000 years old.


Dr. Conards team said that an abundance of stone and ivory artifacts, flint-knapping debris and bones of hunted animals were found in the sediments with the flutes. Many people appeared to have lived and worked there soon after their arrival in Europe, assumed to be around 40,000 years ago and 10,000 years before the native Neanderthals were to become extinct.


The Neanderthals, close human relatives, apparently left no firm evidence of having been musical.


The most significant of the new artifacts, the archaeologists said, was a flute made from a hollow bone of a griffon vulture, skeletons of which are often found in these caves. The preserved portion is about 8.5 inches long and includes the end of the instrument into which the musician blew. The maker had carved two deep, V-shaped notches there, and four fine lines near the finger holes. The other end appears to be broken off; judging by the typical length of these bird bones, two or three inches are missing.


Dr. Conards discovery in 2004 of the seven-inch, three-holed ivory flute at the Geissenklösterle cave, also near Ulm, inspired him to widen his search of caves, saying at the time that southern Germany may have been one of the places where human culture originated.


Friedrich Seeberger, a German specialist in ancient music, reproduced the ivory flute in wood. Experimenting with the replica, he found that the ancient flute produced a range of notes comparable in many ways to modern flutes. The tones are quite harmonic, he said.


A replica is yet to be made of the recent discovery, but the archaeologists said they expected the five-hole flute with its larger diameter to provide a comparable, or perhaps greater, range of notes and musical possibilities.


Archaeologists and other scholars can only speculate as to what moved these early Europeans to make music.


It so happens, as Dr. Conard and his co-authors, Susanne C. Münzel of Tubingen and Maria Malina of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, noted, the Hohle Fels flute was uncovered in sediments a few feet away from the carved figurine of a busty, nude woman, also around 35,000 years old. The discovery was announced in May by Dr. Conard.


Was this evidence of happy hours after the hunt? Fertility rites or social bonding? The German archaeologists suggested that music in the Stone Age could have contributed to the maintenance of larger social networks, and thereby perhaps have helped facilitate the demographic and territorial expansion of modern humans.

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