Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany

Date:
June 25, 2009
Source:
Universitaet Tuebingen
Summary:
Researchers in Germany have unearthed new evidence for Paleolithic music in the form of the remains of one nearly complete bone flute and isolated small fragments of three ivory flutes. The discovery suggests themusical tradition was well established when modern humans colonized Europe over 35,000 calendar years ago.

Researchers in Germany have unearthed new evidence for Paleolithic music in the form of the remains of one nearly complete bone flute and isolated small fragments of three ivory flutes. The discovery suggests the musical tradition was well established when modern humans colonized Europe over 35,000 calendar years ago.

Excavations in the summer of 2008 at the sites of Hohle Fels and Vogelherd produced the new evidence. The most significant of these finds, a nearly complete bone flute, was recovered in the basal Aurignacian deposits at Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley, 20 km west of Ulm. The flute was found in 12 pieces. The fragments were distributed over a vertical distance of 3 cm over a horizontal area of about 10 x 20 cm. This flute is by far the most complete of all of the musical instruments thus far recovered from the caves of Swabia.

"These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago," the authors write in the journal Nature. "Other than the caves of the Swabian Jura, the earliest secure archaeological evidence for music comes from sites in France and Austria and post-date 30,000 years ago."

The preserved portion of the bone flute from Hohle Fels has a length of 21.8 cm and a diameter of about 8 mm. The flute preserves five finger holes. The surfaces of the flute and the structure of the bone are in excellent condition and reveal many details about the manufacture of the flute. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches into one end of the instrument, presumably to form the proximal end of the flute into which the musician blew. The find density in this stratum is moderately high with much flint knapping debris, worked bone and ivory, bones of horse, reindeer, mammoth, cave bear, ibex, as well as burnt bone. No diagnostic human bones have been found in deposits of the Swabian Aurignacian, but we assume that modern humans produced the artifacts from the basal Aurignacian deposits shortly after their arrival in the region following a migration up the Danube Corridor.

The maker of the flute carved the instrument from the radius of a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). This species has a wingspan between 230 and 265 cm and provides bones ideal for large flutes. Griffon vultures and other vultures are documented in the Upper Paleolithic sediments of the Swabian caves.

The 2008 excavations at Hohle Fels also recovered two small fragments of what are almost certainly two ivory flutes from the basal Aurignacian. The different dimensions of the fragments indicate that the two finds are not from the same instrument. Excavators at Vogelherd in the Lone Valley 25 km northwest of Ulm recovered another isolated fragment of another ivory flute.

The technology for making an ivory flute is much more complicated than making a flute from a bird bone. This process requires forming the rough shape along the long axis of a naturally curved piece of ivory, splitting it open along one of the bedding plains in the ivory, carefully hollowing out the halves, carving the holes, and then rejoining the halves of the flute with an air-tight seal. Given the tendency of delicate ivory artifacts to break into many pieces, it is not unusual to find isolated pieces of such artifacts.

The 10 radiocarbon dates from the basal Aurignacian fall between 31,000 and 40,000 years before present. Available calibrations and independent controls using other methods indicate that the flutes from Hohle Fels predate 35,000 calendar years ago. Apart from the caves of the Swabian Jura there is no convincing evidence for musical instruments predating 30,000 years before present.

These finds demonstrate that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys of southwestern Germany. Most of these flutes are from archaeological contexts containing an abundance of organic and lithic artifacts, hunted fauna, and burnt bone. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the sites played musical instruments in diverse social and cultural contexts and that flutes were discarded with many other forms of occupational debris. In the case of Hohle Fels, the location of the bone flute in a thin archaeological horizon only 70 cm away from a female figurine of similar age suggests that a possible contextual link exists between these two finds.

The flutes from Hohle Fels, Vogelherd and previous finds from nearby Geißenklösterle Cave demonstrate that a musical tradition existed in the cultural repertoire of the Aurignacian around the time modern humans settled in the Upper Danube region. The development of a musical tradition in the Aurignacian accompanied the development of the early figurative art and numerous innovations, including a wide array of new forms of personal ornaments, as well as new lithic and organic technologies. The presence of music in the lives of Upper Paleolithic peoples did not directly produce a more effective subsistence economy and greater reproductive success, but music seems to have contributed to improved social cohesion and new forms of communication, which indirectly contributed to demographic expansion of modern humans relative to the culturally more conservative Neanderthal populations.

The flutes from the caves of the Swabian Jura constitute a key part a major exhibit in Stuttgart entitled Ice Age Art and Culture, which will run from September 18, 2009 – January 10, 2010.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina & Susanne C. Münzel. New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany. Nature, June 26, 2009 DOI: 10.1038/nature08169

Cite This Page:

Universitaet Tuebingen. "Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090624213346.htm>.
Universitaet Tuebingen. (2009, June 25). Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090624213346.htm
Universitaet Tuebingen. "Paleolithic Bone Flute Discovered: Earliest Musical Tradition Documented In Southwestern Germany." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090624213346.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) — Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for £650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for £650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) — London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about £650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) — The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

AFP (July 26, 2014) — Tourists visiting Italy at the peak of the summer season are disappointed to find some of Rome's most famous attractions being restored and offering limited access. Duration: 01:01 Video provided by AFP
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