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: “You 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.”
JM: What could the music of early man have sounded like? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Steven Mithen is an archaeologist at the University of Reading, in England.
SM: “In 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.”
JM: And, if Neanderthal Man experimented with the sounds he could produce, who’s to say? It might have sounded like this.
[ambience: man’s voice singing]
SM: “But 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.”
JM: Here’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. I’m Jim Metzner.