In today’s issue of Nature magazine, archaeologists Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina, and Susanne C. Münzel report about the discovery last fall, in a cave in Southwestern Germany, of bone and ivory flutes dating from the Stone Age. They say this discovery points to a “musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago.” Only fragments of the ivory flutes were discovered, but the bone flute, made from vulture bone, is looking like it’s in pretty good shape considering that it represents the “oldest-known musical instrument fashioned by human hands.” I wish the AP weren’t so litigious regarding use of its photos, otherwise I’d post one here; there are some good ones in the stories linked above.
Although only 8.5 inches long, the bone instrument produces a sound that is “in many ways comparable to that of a modern flute.” The Times article actually has an audio clip of music played on a replica of a similar, though smaller, bone flute that was also found in the caves around the Ulm region of Germany, and I can confirm that it sounds strikingly similar to the recorder, which I was forced to learn in elementary school music class. Does that still happen these days?
This discovery is important because it reinforces a central theme of Anchorman; namely, that real men play jazz flute, which leads to women playing skin flute (forgive me, I had to get that joke in this post somewhere). Also, this.
In fact, lots of people (men and women) seem to love the flute. Don’t believe me? A quick Google search revealed multiple examples of flute song compilation lists! Who knew that the flute would have such lasting cultural resonance? The Neanderthals, apparently.
More recently, the Black Keys, a pretty kick-ass blues-rock band from Akron, Ohio, reached deep into the collective unconscious and threw a flute solo on the song “Same Old Thing” from last summer’s Attack & Release. Give it a “spin” and imagine you’re in a cave in Germany 35,000 years ago.
The Black Keys – Same Old Thing: