Stone Age bone flute discovered in southern Germany | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 24.06.2009

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Stone Age bone flute discovered in southern Germany

Archeologists in Germany have uncovered what they think is a 35,000-year-old bone flute, making it the oldest known instrument in the world.

A 35,000-year-old bone flute

Music may have helped Stone Age people form social networks, said researchers

The find proves that Stone Age humans had a highly developed musical culture, wrote Nicholas Conard, an archeologist from the University of Tuebingen in the British journal "Nature."

Largely intact, the flute had been constructed from the hollow wing bone of a giant vulture using stone tools, according to the study.

Nearly 22 centimeters long (8.7 inches), the instrument roughly resembles its modern equivalent. Five holes were carved into it to alter the pitch.

Fragments of three ivory flutes were uncovered at the same site, in the Ach Valley in southern Germany, along with other instruments that are not quite so old.

Previously, a carved figurine from the same period had been discovered just a few steps from the cave where the instruments were found, suggesting that culture was important to the people who lived in the region during the Upper Palaeolithic period (approximately 40,000-10,000 years ago).

The bone and ivory flutes were dated using radiocarbon dating techniques; they are some 5,000 years older than the previously oldest known instruments.

"Upper Palaeolithic music could have contributed to the maintenance of large social networks, and thereby have helped facilitate the demographic and territorial expansion of modern humans" compared to the more "culturally conservative" and isolated Neanderthals, Conard said, as reported by AFP news agency.

No concrete evidence has been found that Neanderthals were also active musicians. While Upper Palaeolithic people are considered modern humans, Neanderthals are classified as either a subspecies or a separate species.


Editor: Sean Sinico

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