Celebrating 40,000 Musical Years

Scientists in Germany have published details of flutes dating back to the time that modern humans began colonising Europe, 35,000 years ago.

The flutes are the oldest musical instruments found to date. The researchers say in the Journal Nature that music was widespread in pre-historic times. Music, they suggest, may have been one of a suite of behaviours displayed by our own species which helped give them an edge over the Neanderthals. The team from Tubingen University have published details of three flutes found in the Hohle Fels cavern in southwest Germany.

The most well-preserved of the flutes is made from a vulture’s wing bone, measuring 20cm long with five finger holes and two “V”-shaped notches on one end of the instrument into which the researchers assume the player blew.

The find brings the total number of flutes discovered from this era to eight, four made from mammoth ivory and four made from bird bones. According to Professor Nicholas Conard of Tubingen University, this suggests that the playing of music was common as far back as 40,000 years ago when modern humans spread across Europe.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that music was part of day-to-day life,” he said.

Exerts from Pallab Ghosh - Science correspondent, BBC News

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