Flute find suggests early ancestors more culturally sophisticated than thought
WEDNESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- The discovery of a cache of prehistoric flutes suggests that music soothed the savage beast in early man as far back as 35,000 years ago.
German paleontologists found the flutes, made of ivory and bones from birds, in a cave in southwestern Germany. They date back to the Middle Paleolithic era and indicate that "early modern man" had more in common with today's humans than scientists realized.
"This tells us that a quintessential human trait was in existence at that time," said Jeffrey Laitman, director of anatomy and functional morphology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "We're looking at a very sophisticated culture and population."
According to the report in the June 25 issue of Nature, "the archaeological record of the evolution and spread of music remains incomplete." As a result, it's been hard to pinpoint when humans began making music.
Prior to the current discovery, the authors wrote, the earliest musical artifacts dated from fewer than 30,000 years ago and were found in France and Austria.
Last summer, however, the German paleontologists found a nearly complete flute made of bone and fragments of three ivory flutes. Just like modern flutes, the ancient ones have holes that humans could cover to make different sounds when blowing through them.
The flutes show that the human society of the time was becoming modern, Laitman said.
They were not simply devoting their lives to finding food, he said. The flutes "are telling us about intricate and delicate communication, bonding, social events that are going on."
Why make a flute out of bird bone? Because it's an ideal kind of bone to use, said Daniel Adler, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut.
"Bird bone is thin, light and strong, which is conduc
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