25 June 2009


Excavations in the summer of 2008 at the sites of Hohle Fels and Vogelherd produced new evidence for Paleolithic music in the form of the remains of one nearly complete bone flute and isolated small fragments of three ivory flutes. The most significant of these finds, a nearly complete bone flute, was recovered in the basal Aurignacian deposits at Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley, 20 km west of Ulm. The flute was found in 12 pieces. The fragments were distributed over a vertical distance of 3 cm over a horizontal area of about 10 x 20 cm. This flute is by far the most complete of all of the musical instruments thus far recovered from the caves of Swabia.

The preserved portion of the bone flute from Hohle Fels has a length of 21.8 cm and a diameter of about 8 mm. The flute preserves five finger holes. The surfaces of the flute and the structure of the bone are in excellent condition and reveal many details about the manufacture of the flute. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches into one end of the instrument, presumably to form the proximal end of the flute into which the musician blew. (...) The maker of the flute carved the instrument from the radius of a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). (...) Available calibrations and independent controls using other methods indicate that the flutes from Hohle Fels predate 35,000 calendar years ago. Apart from the caves of the Swabian Jura there is no convincing evidence for musical instruments predating 30 ka BP. (...) This evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the sites played musical instruments in diverse social and cultural contexts and that flutes were discarded with many other forms of occupational debris. In the case of Hohle Fels, the location of the bone flute in a thin archaeological horizon only 70 cm away from a female figurine of similar age suggests that a possible contextual link exists between these two finds.

The flutes from Hohle Fels, Vogelherd and previous finds from nearby Geißenklösterle Cave demonstrate that a musical tradition existed in the cultural repertoire of the Aurignacian around the time modern humans settled in the Upper Danube region. The development of a musical tradition in the Aurignacian accompanied the development of the early figurative art and numerous innovations, including a wide array of new forms of personal ornaments, as well as new lithic and organic technologies. The presence of music in the lives of Upper Paleolithic peoples did not directly produce a more effective subsistence economy and greater reproductive success, but music seems to have contributed to improved social cohesion and new forms of communication, which indirectly contributed to demographic expansion of modern humans relative to the culturally more conservative Neanderthal populations. The flutes from the caves of the Swabian Jura constitute a key part a major exhibit in Stuttgart entitled Ice Age Art and Culture, which will run from September 18, 2009 – January 10, 2010. (daqui)



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