Have You Heard the One About the 35,000 Year Old Flute?


The oldest known musical instrument has been found in a cave in Germany.  Made from the bone of a griffon vulture, and rather sophisticated, the “vulture” connotation is rather interesting.

It also suggests early humans were far more sophisticated than once believed.

“…The cave is the same one where Conard found the recently described 40,000-year-old Venus figurine, the oldest known representation of the female form; as well as a host of other artifacts, including ivory carvings of a horse’s or bear’s head; a water bird that may be in flight; and a half-human, half-lion figure.

The cave, which was occupied for millenniums, “is one of the most wonderfully clear windows into the past, where conditions of preservation are just right,” Shea said. “Combine that with a gifted excavator, and you get truly great archaeology.”

The reconstructed flute, a little under 9 inches long, was found in 12 pieces in a layer of sediment nearly 9 feet below the cave’s floor. The team also found fragments of two ivory flutes — which are less durable — that are probably not quite as old.

The surfaces of the flute and the structure of the bone are in excellent condition and reveal many details about its manufacture. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches into one end of the instrument, presumably to form the end into which the musician blew, and four fine lines near the finger holes. The other end is broken off, but, based on the normal size of the vultures, Conard estimates the intact flute was probably 2 to 3 inches longer.

In 2004, Conard found a 30,000-year-old, 7-inch, three-holed ivory flute at the nearby Geissenklosterle cave, and he has found fragments of several others, although none are as old as the Hohle Fels artifact. Combined, the finds indicate the development of a strong musical tradition in the region, accompanied by the development of figurative art and other innovations, Conard said….”