Musical bones were world's first instruments

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The Independent Online
A SET of bird bones with holes drilled in them have turned out to be the world's oldest playable musical instruments, dating back nearly 9,000 years.

The flutes, excavated from an archaeological site in China, have revealed a sophisticated knowledge of music-making during the stone-age period.

Chinese archaeologists report in the journal Nature that they are "exquisitely- made" from the wing bones of the red-crowned crane.

They were found at an early Neolithic site at Jiahu in the central Yellow River valley in mid-Henan province, where archaeologists have excavated far more recent artefacts from the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206BC to AD220.

The archaeologists, led by Juzhong Zhang of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province at Zhengzhou, said the six flutes were the most complete in a selection of fragments from up to 30 more bone flutes.

These flutes, measuring between 6.5 and 9.5 inches long, have six, seven or eight holes drilled through them for the fingers of the players, who held the instruments vertically while blowing over the mouth piece.

"The discovery of complete, playable multi-note flutes at Jiahu presents us with a rare opportunity to hear and analyse actual musical sounds as they were produced nine millennia ago," the scientists say.

Flutes have been found before at sites associated with Neanderthal culture, which dates back 30,000 years or more, but they were so damaged that it was impossible to find out how they would have been played.

Sound tests have shown that the flutes were built to produce a carefully selected tonal scale, indicating that they were probably used for music rather than single notes, the scientists say. A musician has been able to use one of the flutes to play a contemporary Chinese folk song.