Flute discovery blows a hole in the Neanderthal myth

FOR MODERN humanity, music may be the food of love - but in its original form it may well have been invented by creatures with a more brutish reputation. A recent archaeological discovery suggests that our species was not the first to make music. Instead, the credit should go to Neanderthal man, the pre-human species that Homo sapiens helped to drive into extinction.

Deep inside a cave in Slovenia, in the north of former Yugoslavia, archaeologists have unearthed the world's oldest true musical instrument - a flute which appears to have been made by Neanderthals around 45,000 years ago.

Broken at both ends, the 5in-long instrument - made out of the leg bone of a young bear - still retains its four finger holes. It was found by the side of a temporary hearth inside a cave near the town of Nova Gorica, adjacent to the Italian frontier, 40 miles west of the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. Also by the fireplace was a typical Neanderthal flint tool - a scraper, probably for cleaning animal skins. Apart from being the oldest musical instrument in the world, the flute's greatest significance lies in its association with Neanderthal man.

Prior to this discovery, most archaeologists and anthropologists would have doubted Neanderthal man's ability to produce music, let alone make musical instruments. The Slovenian discovery suggests they were able to do both. The unanswered question, however, is whether they thought up the idea for themselves or whether they simply copied the idea from the rival species, our own ancestors, Homo sapiens.

While our species had arrived in eastern Europe around 45,000 years ago, they did not reach central Europe, including Slovenia, for at least another 5,000 years, at the earliest. Given the age of the flute, it therefore seems likely that the Slovenian Neanderthalers learnt to play music all by themselves - a fact that has far-reaching implications for human evolution.

What it suggests is that Neanderthal man was perhaps intellectually closer to modern humans than has previously been accepted. Nor were they necessarily as primitive and technologically backward as many people have thought.

The flute was discovered about 40 feet inside a cave by archaeologist Ivan Turk of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences. Not only is it the oldest such find, but it is also the most sophisticated Stone Age flute found. A two-hole instrument made by Homo sapiens and dating back 35,000 years was unearthed earlier this century in Hungary. And in Libya, in the 1950s, two much older artefacts were discovered, a pair of single-holed Homo sapiens whistles, dating from around 100,000 years ago.

However, the Libyan examples would not have been capable of generating music as such, and probably only served to imitate birds or send signals.

By contrast, this Neanderthal flute could, in theory, have been used to produce a wide range of pentatonic melodies - "real" music.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried