Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Ancient Curse

Today's New York Times has an interesting story about archeologist's who have discovered some seriously ancient evidence of culture:

At least 35,000 years ago, in the depths of the last ice age, the sound of music filled a cave in what is now southwestern Germany, the same place and time early Homo sapiens were also carving the oldest known examples of figurative art in the world.

* * *

Archaeologists Wednesday reported the discovery last fall of a bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes that they said represented the earliest known flowering of music-making in Stone Age culture. They said the bone flute with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave in the hills west of Ulm, was 'by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves' in a region where pieces of other flutes have been turning up in recent years.

A three-hole flute carved from mammoth ivory was uncovered a few years ago at another cave, as well as two flutes made from the wing bones of a mute swan. In the same cave, archaeologists also found beautiful carvings of animals.
Please note the irony of a musical instrument being made out of a "mute" swan.

One would have thought that drums or some other kind of percussion instruments would have predated flutes. On the other hand, perhaps the entire percussive field was born of the desire of fellow cave mates to bash the nascent flautist over the head with his instrument.*

Of course, somebody went and tested one of these things out:
Friedrich Seeberger, a German specialist in ancient music, reproduced the ivory flute in wood. Experimenting with the replica, he found that the ancient flute produced a range of notes comparable in many ways to modern flutes. 'The tones are quite harmonic,' he said.
But, modern flutes aren't "quite harmonic." Proof of devolution!

More info on the early artistic endeavors of our ancestors:

* Q: How do you tune two flute players? A: Shoot one of them. I keed, I keed. Note that almost all lawyer jokes can be redone with flautists as the stars.

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