Prehistoric Flute


Pictured here is a prehistoric, 35,000 year-old bird-bone flute found in a German cave. It is the oldest handcrafted musical instrument ever discovered and shows that (according to archaeologists) early modern humans in Europe had established a complex and creative culture.

University of Tuebingen archaeologist ,Nicholas Conard, assembled the flute from 12 pieces of griffon vulture bone scattered in a small plot of the Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany. The size is 8.6-inches (22-centimeter) with five holes and a notched end. 

"It’s unambiguously the oldest instrument in the world," Conard told The Associated Press this week. His findings were published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Another flute excavated in Austria is believed to be 19,000 years old, and a group of 22 flutes found in the French Pyrenees mountains has been dated at up to 30,000 years ago.

Neanderthals lived alongside modern humans (Cro Magnon) in Europe around the time the flute and sculpture were made, and frequented the Hohle Fels cave. Both Conard and Roebroeks believe, however, that layered deposits left by both species over thousands of years suggest the artifacts were crafted by early modern humans.

"The material record is so completely different from what happened in these hundreds of thousands of years before with the Neanderthals," Roebroeks said. "I would put my money on modern humans having created and played these flutes."

"There’s a distinction between sporadic appearances and the true development of, in this case, a musical culture," Nowell said. "The importance of something like this flute is it shows a well-established technique and tradition."

Conard said it’s likely that early modern humans — and perhaps Neanderthals, too — were making music longer than 35,000 years ago. This flute and the others found across Europe strengthen evidence that modern humans in Europe were establishing cultural behavior similar to our own.