Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brookhaven Lab Expert Helps Date Flute Thought To Be Oldest Playable Musical Instrument

Date:
October 5, 1999
Source:
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Summary:
Researchers in China have uncovered what might be the oldest playable musical instrument. Recent excavations at the early Neolithic site of Jiahu, located in Henan province, China, have yielded six complete bone flutes between 7,000 and 9,000 years old.

Bone flute found in China at 9,000-year-old Neolithic site

Upton, NY - Researchers in China have uncovered what might be the oldest playable musical instrument. Their work is described in a paper published in the September 23 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

Recent excavations at the early Neolithic site of Jiahu, located in Henan province, China, have yielded six complete bone flutes between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. Fragments of approximately 30 other flutes were also discovered. The flutes may be the earliest complete, playable, tightly-dated, multinote musical instruments.

Garman Harbottle, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and member of the Jiahu research team, helped analyze data from carbon-14 dating done in China on materials taken from the site. "Jiahu has the potential to be one of the most significant and exciting early Neolithic sites ever investigated," said Harbottle. "The carbon dating was of crucial importance to my Chinese colleagues in establishing the age of the site and the relics found within it."

The exquisitely-crafted flutes are all made from the ulnae, or wing bones, of the red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis Millen) and have five, six, seven or eight holes. The best-preserved flute has been played and tonally analyzed in tests at the Music School of the Art Institute of China.

The discovery of these flutes presents a remarkable and rare opportunity for anthropologists, musicians and the general public to hear musical sounds as they were produced nine millennia ago. To hear an audio recording of the flute, go to http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/flutes.html on the World Wide Web.

The excavations and carbon-14 dating were carried out by researchers from the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China; the Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Science and Technology of China; and the Paleobotany Laboratory, Academia Sinica, Beijing, China.

Tonal analysis of the flutes revealed that the seven holes correspond to a tone scale remarkably similar to the Western eight-note scale that begins "do, re, mi." This carefully-selected tone scale suggested to the researchers that the Neolithic musician of the seventh millennium BC could play not just single notes, but perhaps even music.

Jiahu lies in the Central Yellow River Valley in mid-Henan Province and was inhabited from 7000 BC to 5700 BC. The site was discovered by Zhu Zhi, late director of the Wuyang County Museum, in 1962, but only in the past 15 years has significant excavation activity begun. In addition to the musical instruments, the site has yielded important information on the early foundations of Chinese society. Music in China is traditionally associated with ritual observances and government affairs.

To date, only about five percent of Jiahu has been excavated, uncovering 45 house foundations, 370 cellars, nine pottery kilns and thousands of artifacts of bone, pottery, stone and other materials. Additional excavation activities are planned for the near future.

The authors of the paper describing the Jiahu findings are Juzhong Zhang, from the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China, and the Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Science and Technology of China; Changsui Wang, also from the Archaeometry Laboratory; Zhaochen Kong, from the Paleobotany Laboratory, Academia Sinica, Beijing, China; and Garman Harbottle from Brookhaven.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brookhaven National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Brookhaven Lab Expert Helps Date Flute Thought To Be Oldest Playable Musical Instrument." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 October 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991005071115.htm>.
Brookhaven National Laboratory. (1999, October 5). Brookhaven Lab Expert Helps Date Flute Thought To Be Oldest Playable Musical Instrument. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991005071115.htm
Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Brookhaven Lab Expert Helps Date Flute Thought To Be Oldest Playable Musical Instrument." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991005071115.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: MD Church Built in 1773 Ravaged by Fire

Raw: MD Church Built in 1773 Ravaged by Fire

AP (July 22, 2014) — Authorities say a 241-year-old church on the National Register of Historic Places has been ravaged by fire in Maryland. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) — As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Research on plaque from ancient teeth shows that our prehistoric ancestor's had a detailed understanding of plants long before developing agriculture. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins