Flutes date back to more than forty-thousand years, a new research from Oxford and Tübingen universities has concluded.
Evidence that European’s earliest ancestors were playing musical instruments more than 40,000 years ago was unearthed some years ago at Geißenklösterle Cave in southern Germany in the form of primitive flutes made from bird bones and mammoth ivory.
However, earlier radiocarbon dates of objects from the cave were erroneous, the researchers said.
Using improved methods to remove contamination, they dated the animal bones excavated in the same rock layers as the instruments to between 42,000 and 43,000 years old — 2,000 to 3,000 years older than previously thought.
So far these dates are the earliest for the Aurignacian, a culture linked with early modern humans and dating to the Upper Paleolithic period, began at the site between 42,000 and 43,000 years ago.
“These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago,” Nick Conard, from Tubingen University in Germany, said in a statement.
“Geißenklösterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments,” Conard said.
The finding shows how important music was for the early humans living into the region near the cave. Indeed, the flutes were mixed in with other remnants from daily life, suggesting that they were used in many contexts.
In 2009, Conard and experimental archaeologist Wulf Hein built a replica of one of the flutes unearthed at the site using the same type of bone and played the song “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Published in the Journal of Human Evolution, the new study suggests that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase known as the H4 event at around 39,000 to 40,000 years ago. Previously, researchers had argued that modern humans initially migrated up the Danube immediately following the H4 event.
“Modern humans during the Aurignacian period were in central Europe at least 2,000 to 3,000 years before this climatic deterioration, when huge icebergs calved from ice sheets in the northern Atlantic and temperatures plummeted,” Tom Higham, who led the team that dated the bones at Oxford University, said
“The question is what effect this downturn might have had on the people in Europe at the time,” he said.
What did the prehistoric flute sound like? Listen to a clip of music played on a reconstructed flute. Credit: The University of Tübingen
Thomas Higham, Laura Basell, Roger Jacobi, Rachel Wood, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Nicholas J. Conard. Τesting models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle. Journal of Human Evolution, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.03.003