Airdate: Jun 19, 2009
The Music Instinct - Early Man
Neanderthals may not have used words to communicate, but it's possible that they could sing.
SM: â€œYou know, the one thing about the past is it's totally silent. The dilemma is how does one try to recreate the sounds that might have happened in the past.â€
JM: What could the music of early man have sounded like? Iâ€™m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Steven Mithen is an archaeologist at the University of Reading, in England.
SM: â€œIn a cave site in Israel initially, they found something called a hyoid bone. Which a little bit of, almost like a little bit of cartilage that sits within our vocal tract. And for the first time, we saw what one of these looked like in a Neanderthal and it was almost identical to that of a modern human. That told us that the Neanderthal vocal tract was much the same as ours today. And they were probably able to make as wide a range of vocalizations as we could. Probably sounded a little bit differently. You know, they had these great big noses and it was probably much more sort of nasal sound. But nevertheless a fantastic array of sounds, just as we could today.â€
JM: And, if Neanderthal Man experimented with the sounds he could produce, whoâ€™s to say? It might have sounded like this.
[ambience: manâ€™s voice singing]
SM: â€œBut you know, when you look at how they're behaving and the artifacts they're making, I don't think there's any signs of language there at all. It's just not a language-like behavior. So I think their vocal tract was used for singing, mainly, for making music.â€
JM: Hereâ€™s an intriguing idea. Steven Mithen and other scholars think that before early man spoke a language, he sang. Be sure to watch The Music Instinct, a two hour special this month on public television stations.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. Iâ€™m Jim Metzner.