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Airdate: Jun 23, 2009

The Music Instinct - Oldest Instrument

The Music Instinct - Oldest Instrument
Archaeologists have found a 35,000-year-old flute in a cave in Germany.

Transcript:

music: mammoth bone flute

NC: “We usually say the flutes date to around 35,000 years ago.”

JM: Could this be what the earliest form of music sounded like? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the 1990s several mammoth bone flutes were discovered in a cave in Germany by a team led by Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tubingen.

NC: “And it really was remarkable when a colleague of mine, Maria Milina, discovered it, she came to me one day and said, oh nick, I think I discovered an ivory flute.’ I said, Maria, you know, that’s crazy. Who would make an ivory flute?’ Then she continued to work on it for over a year and found 31 little fragments that fit together.”

JM: Once the bone flute fragments were carefully put together, their markings revealed clues as to how the instrument was made.

NC: “So what they first did was roughed out the form, then split it on that seam between the enamel and dentine. And then they’ve got to hollow it out; they’ve got to cut the ends to length. They have to know exactly where to put the finger holes. And even after you’ve done all that, you’ve got the big problem of how to fit it back together. And we know that these kinds of notches and similar forms are characteristic for glued surfaces. So it was then bound with either sinew or plant fibers and then glued probably with birch pitch.”

JM: The flutes give us an indication of the importance of music in the life of early man.

NC: “From my point of view music was part of daily life. I think the fact that we have a total of four flutes suggests that there were other forms of music as well: dance and song and clapping and perhaps rhythmic instruments.”

JM: 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.