Sunday, June 28, 2009

35,000 year old flute found

Archaeologists find oldest ever flute in southern Germany

A Tübingen research team has revealed what is thus far the oldest musical instrument in the world ever discovered. In a cave in the Swabian Mountains, archaeologists uncovered a flute believed to be more than 35,000 years old made from the hollow wing bones of a giant vulture. This is not the first such astonishing discovery of this group of Tübingen researchers.
35,000 year old Bone Flute discovered in the Swabian Mountains, picture-alliance dpa

Prehistoric expert Nicholas Conard from the University of Tübingen is known worldwide for his spectacular Ice Age finds. Only a few weeks ago he landed an archaeological coup with the discovery of the oldest known human artistic representation ever found known as the Venus of Hohle Fels.

On Wednesday, Conard revealed the flute, the oldest evidence for a musical instrument worldwide. And while it’s not the first Ice Age flute found in the Swabian Mountains, its age reveals the importance of music to daily life at that time. It was dated using radiocarbon dating techniques and is 5,000 years older than the instruments discovered so far.

Like the Venus statue, the flute was discovered in the cave known as the Hohle Fels located nearby Schelklingen, around 20 kilometers from the city of Ulm. Although similar flutes were found in southern France and Austria, this is believed to be the oldest such instrument and proof for the evidence of Stone Age musicians on earth.

A precursor to modern flutes

Twelve parts of the musical instrument were found in the lowest levels of the cave believed to date from the time period of the Aurignacian culture that existed in Europe and southwest Asia 40,000 years ago. The Aurignacian peoples were especially well known for their worked bone points and cave art. Assembled, the twelve pieces represent by far the most completely preserved musical instrument thus far found in the Swabian caves.

The flute was discovered in the summer of 2008 and has until now been under assembly. It is made from the bones of a vulture whose wingspan of 2.3 to 2.65 meters made for ideal bones in the construction of instruments. The flute is 22 cm long, has five holes and a notch at the end. The flute can no longer be played, however, because the bottom half is missing. Conard's team had a replica of the old flute made, which when played sounds amazingly similar to a modern flute.

The research team also found individual fragments from three ivory flutes. Additional musical instruments from the Ice Age were discovered years before at other sites in the Swabian Mountains. All in all, the Tübingen researchers have excavated four flutes made of bone and numerous ivory flutes. Conard says this clearly reveals that musical traditions played an important part of life in even the earliest human civilizations.

The Swabian Mountains provide good conditions for archaeologists and the Tübingen team are known for their excavation techniques. Although this is the oldest flute so far found, it's likely that music was played in other parts of the world at that time.

The public will be able to view the flute together with the Venus statue for the first time at an Ice Age exhibit in Stuttgart September 18-January 10.

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