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Very old flute found

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Wolfgang 16 Dec 04 - 09:37 AM
JohnInKansas 16 Dec 04 - 10:18 AM
Wolfgang 16 Dec 04 - 11:40 AM
JohnInKansas 16 Dec 04 - 01:24 PM
Stilly River Sage 17 Dec 04 - 01:08 AM
GUEST 17 Dec 04 - 11:40 PM
Tannywheeler 18 Dec 04 - 12:56 AM
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Subject: Very old flute found
From: Wolfgang
Date: 16 Dec 04 - 09:37 AM

In the thread Oldest music there is already a bit of discussion of very old instruments. Other remarks have been scattered in many threads. Since I have not found a thread only for very old instruments I start this new thread.

This link goes to a German article (I hope that link works for you, maybe I have here free access and you haven't)
about a very old flute made from a (part of a) mammoth tooth and dated by two different methods at an age of 35,000 to 37,000 years. It has been found recently in Suebia (?), Germany (in a cave with other, slightly younger flutes). Even if you can't read German that page has a picture of the flute.


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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 16 Dec 04 - 10:18 AM

Wolfgang -

The link worked fine for me. The "Google Translator" even did a reasonable job on it. The translation was a little crude, but most of the rough spots are clear enough by looking back at the German even with my very crude linguistic abilities.

The only thing not really clear in the translation was whether they are attributing this flute to Neanderthals, to human, or saying they can't tell which.


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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
From: Wolfgang
Date: 16 Dec 04 - 11:40 AM

They say at that time both Neanderthals and modern men coexisted in Europe. So only by implication they say that from flute age alone one cannot tell.

I like to think it was us.


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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 16 Dec 04 - 01:24 PM

Well anyhow, ya' done it agin. Got me started looking to see if there was an english newsnote about the discovery, and of course when one Googles one gets sidetracked.

Best English version I could find is German: Deutsche Welle News clip Germany 11.12.2004 35,000-Year-Old Flute Found in Germany
"German archeologists have discovered a 35,000-year-old ivory flute in a cave in the hills of southern Germany, the university of Tübingen announced Friday. The instrument, among the world's oldest and made from a woolly mammoth's ivory tusk, was assembled from 31 pieces that were found in the cave in the Swabian Jura mountains, where ivory figurines, ornaments and other musical instruments have been found in recent years. According to archeologists, humans used the area for camps in the winter and spring. The university plans to put the instrument on display in a museum in Stuttgart, according to reports."

Pretty much posted entire, since news blurbs tend to go away and it was short.

An almost identical newsclip - but with more hype and fewer facts, is at MSNBC: MSNBC newsclip.

It appears that an older "flute fragment" may exist, ca. 50,000 to 80,000 years old. Probably made from a cave bear bone, so I'll call it the "Cave Bear Flute." The first hit on it was at Neanderthal Flute Essay: Bob Fink. Mr. Fink leaps to some giant conclusions that I don't believe are justified. Consensus is that this fragment is part of a flute, but some reserve opinion on whether it may have had another use. Mr. Fink advances his theory that two holes in an old bone "proves" that Neanderthals played the major diatonic scale and had great singing and dancing at their parties. (I only exaggerate a little.)

A newsclip at BBC News 20 FEB 2000, reports that a Dr Jelle Atema, from Boston University, has reconstructed the "Cave Bear Flute" using a genuine 50,000-year-old bear bone. I get the impression Dr Atema shares my more reserved opinion of what can be found out from this fragment. I'm somewhat bemused that a 50,000 year old bone was considered "expendable" for this experiment, but fossil ivory is commonly traded.

Neanderthal jam A non-tech blurb on the Atema reconstruction. Affirms that Atema (pictured) has a better sense of what can be known from the "Cave Bear" flute than Mr. Fink. Also shows pic of Ivan Turk, who discovered the Cave Bear flute.

MSNBC has a superhyped essay on odd music that supposedly has a sound clip (probably MP3) of Mr. Atema playing his reproduction Cave Bear Flute, but unfortunately my computer will not allow download because the clip "does not meet Microsoft standards for identity certification" with my current security settings.

I also found quite a bit about "the oldest playable flutes," which are supposed to be a group of a half-dozen found in China, about 9,000 years old. The best report on these is a press release from Brookhaven National Laboratory who helped determine their age:

Brookhaven National Laboratory News release on Brookhaven dating of the flutes "played" by the Chinese in their tests. An excellent HiRes picture of the flutes is available there, 1,734 KB, along with 2 WAV files: 1.7 MB file plays only 9 notes, but the larger 4.2 MB plays 20 or 30 notes and some "melodic" runs.

A brief report of the "tests" on these crane bone flutes is also at Oldest flute sound, Roberto Velázquez Cabrera. A little bit of "opinion" gets injected here, but altogether a good report.

It would be interesting to have an informed opinion on whether the latest Mammoth Tooth flute is complete enough to be replicated into a playable instrument. The photo posted at the first link looks like it should be possible, although the downloadable 10 KB "large" image doesn't show a lot of detail. We might hope that someone competent will take this on before too many amateurs get on it.

As a sidenote, I found a posting that purports to be THE OLDEST WRITTEN TUNE. Hurrian Hymn purports to have "the oldest known written song" annotated in modern notation for flute and two drums. Some provenance. PDF file about 57.8 KB. This version deviates from the "original" to be playable on native flute.
Hurrian Hymn Extended Range purports to be the "original version."

"French archeologists excavated a clay tablet in the early 1950's which is believe to be "sheet music" for this Hurrian Hymn. It is currently the oldest known written music. The tablet was excavated from the site of the ancient city Ugarit, the current Ras Shamra, a few miles North of Latakia in Syria. It is dated to about about 1400 BC and is written with cuneiform signs in the Hurrian language. It records a hymn hymn to the goddess Nikkal, wife of the moon god."


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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 17 Dec 04 - 01:08 AM

Interesting--thanks for posting this!

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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
Date: 17 Dec 04 - 11:40 PM

Is it your intention to purchase and play? And What is your offer?

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Subject: RE: Very old flute found
From: Tannywheeler
Date: 18 Dec 04 - 12:56 AM

Well damn -- thirtyfive thouzin' yers. If I had a mind it would be boggled. Do you suppose someone's mom nagged him to prac....... oops! Wrong thread.    If my throat and nose had not been attacked by some kind of creeping crud I would fee kinda spring-chickenish about now. 35 thou -- heavens to Murgatroyd.    Tw

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