Whistles from Reindeer Bones
Ice-age musicians fashioned ivory flute
A 30 000 year old instrument is uncovered in southern Germany.
Photo: © H. Jensen, University of Tübingen
From the scientific journal, Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041213/full/041213-14.html
One of the world's oldest known musical instruments has been discovered by German archaeologists. The 18.7-centimetre-long flute, which is carved from mammoth ivory, has three finger holes and would have been capable of playing relatively complex melodies.
The flute was found in 31 pieces in the Geißenklösterle cave in mountains near Ulm in southern Germany. Two other flutes made of swan bones were discovered at the site more than a decade ago. The three are much older than any other musical instrument yet discovered.
Nicholas Conard from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and his colleagues report the find in the latest edition of the Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt. They dated the age of the deposits where the three flutes were found to between 30 000 and 37 000 years old.
But it is the extraordinary sophistication of the newly discovered instrument that sets it apart from the swan-bone flutes. "This third flute is like a Rolls Royce compared with a Hyundai," says Conard. Its makers used mammoth ivory, the highest quality material available to them at the time, he says.
Carving a flute from solid ivory is much more demanding than making a flute from bird bones, which are already hollow. The crooked mammoth tusk had to be split and the two halves carefully hollowed out, then bound and glued together along a perfectly airtight seam.
The 30 000-year-old instrument could have played relatively sophisticated tunes. Click here to hear a music sample.
The flute's makers lived in the Upper Palaeolithic era of the last ice age, a period when Europe was occupied simultaneously by the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans.
The inhabitants of the region were adept artisans, and small ivory figurines, which are among the earliest known examples of figurative art, have been found in several sites. Southern Germany "may have been one of the places where human culture originated", says Conard.
A few fragments of the Stone Age flute are missing, but to investigate what kind of music the instrument would have made, Friedrich Seeberger, an expert in prehistoric music and co-author of this report, has made a replica in elder wood.
His early experimentation suggests that the old flute would have allowed a relatively sophisticated level of musical variation. "The tones are quite harmonic," he says. They don't seem to follow a diatonic scale, he notes, but rather the rules of the pentatonic scale that predominates in Asia.
Seeberger now plans to build a more accurate replica, to hear exactly what the original flute would have sounded like. He is currently seeking the right material: mammoth ivory, of course.
Photo: © H. Jensen, University of Tübingen
Composed of 31 fragments, this flute made of mammoth ivory is from the Geißenklösterle cave near Blaubeuren.
It was carved 30-37 000 years ago, and with it relatively complex melodies could be played.
Archaeologists also found in Geißenklösterle two palaeolithic flutes that were made from swan bones.
Photo and text: http://www.swr.de/wissen/technik-forschung/altsteinzeit-kunst/-/id=4282360/nid=4282360/did=4841684/10lmgbn/index.html
Neandertal Cave Bear Bone Flute
In the Divje babe I cave in the Idrijca river valley at Šebrelje, the Institute of Archaeology of the Scientific Research Centre at the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts has been exploring several geological layers, rich with evidence of human presence, which have so far yielded a large quantity of archaeological finds ranging from the bones of different animal species (belonging mostly to the cave bear) to tools made of stone and bone which were produced and used by Neanderthals in the mid-Palaeolithic period, followed by Cro-Magnon man, the oldest modern thinking human in Europe, in the late-Palaeolithic period. Excellent results and discoveries made during these excavations have turned the cave into one of the most important Stone Age archaeological sites in the world.
Previously the most famous such Slovene site had been Potočka Zijalka at Olševa. But in 1995 an extraordinary find was discovered in Divje babe - a bone flute. The flute was unearthed in the 45 000 year old remains of a Neanderthal fireplace. It is made from a piece of hollow cave bear cub bone and contains drilled holes, the arrangement of which corresponds to the distances between the fingers.
This page has many links which those wanting to know more about bone flutes may be interested in, my thanks to Megan for bringing it to my attention: http://www.zzounds.com/edu--boneflute