Music is an essential part of our lives. It can help us relax, make us excited, and comfort us. Yet how many of us stop to think about the origin of music? The question has puzzled humanity across the ages. To find the answers, we must look back across the millennia. By investigating the origins of things, it allows us to understand our own world and ourselves better. Music is just one example!
The Music of the Past
35,000 years ago, in the depths of the last ice age, there was music. The place that heard this music is located in what is today the southwest of Germany, in the Hohle Fels Cave, on the western side of Ulm. It is the same place where homo sapiens carved out early art. Here, an archaeologist discovered bone flutes, and two fragments of ivory flutes. These are the earliest examples of musical instruments in Stone Age culture.
Cave of Hohle Fels in Germany (Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The bone flute had 5-finger holes. It is one of the only complete instruments that have been discovered so far from theses caves; some broken pieces of flutes have also been found.
A separate 3-hole flute, carved with mammoth ivory, was also discovered. Two more flutes made from the wing bones of mute swans were also recovered. In these same caves, archaeologists also discovered beautiful animal carvings.
The samples collected from the bone flutes and other materials were sent for tests in two different laboratories in England and Germany. Both labs used different methods to test the bone flute samples. The scientists conducting the tests agreed that these bone flutes were at least 35,000 years old.
Bone Flutes in China
This was not only the site where ancient instruments have been found. At the Jiahu Neolithic site, in Central China’s Henan Province, a flute-like instrument made from the wing bones of a crane was discovered. It was revealed to be between 8,000 and 9,000 years old. It was one amongst twenty flutes discovered at the site around the years 1986-87.
The finger holes on these flutes were uneven, and the mouthpiece carving was careless. Although unrefined, we can see how these early designs eventually evolved into the flutes of today. The popular musician Ding Xiaokui has a duplicate version of this crane bone flute.
The Oldest Stone Age Bone Flute
There was another Neanderthal flute that was found in the Divje Babe cave, located in Slovenia. According to the scientists and researchers, this flute is even older than the Hohle Fels and dates back to around 50,000 years ago. This is currently believed to be the oldest of all musical instruments in the world.
The cave was near the Idrijca River, where the archaeologists found this flute in 1995. Ivan Turk was the person who led this excavation and made this astounding discovery. But only one fragment of this flute is what remains.
Therefore, Hohle Fels is accountable as the only complete instrument that has been discovered across the globe! But still, the excavation of even one fragment of a Neanderthal flute can tell a lot about the relationship between Homo Sapiens and music.
This instrument was made with the bones of a cave bear. The Slovenian National Museum made a near-identical replica of this discovery. It was designed to give the exact sound that the original bone flute would.
The Slovenian musician Ljuben Dimkaroski has played Albinoni’s Adagio with this replica. Dimkaroski played it in G Minor and concluded that the notes played on this flute are quite diatonic and sound nearly perfect, based upon antique or modern diatonic scales. It is the oldest of all Paleolithic flutes that are known and present to the world. This discovery is now at the Slovenia National Museum.
The early flutes used by homo sapiens were mostly used to mimic the sound of birds, or to celebrate a successful hunt, or a festival. The sounds produced by these bone flutes were similar and perfectly fit that of today’s flute on a diatonic scale.
Today, the musical instrument makers are still working upon their upgrades for making the flutes even better. But the concept and idea of this musical instrument has existed since the age of Homo sapiens. Now people should know when and how music was born, and that people of the Stone Age invented it!
Top Image: Divje Babe flute. Source: Wikipedia / CC BY 2.0.
By Bipin Dimri