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.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin