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Oldest Known Prehistoric Flute in Germany Found

In recent news, it has been announced that one of the oldest known flutes hailing from prehistoric days was discovered in a German cave. Archeologists are dubbing the find the ‘ oldest handcrafted musical instrument yet discovered,’ as it has been estimated to be about 35,000 years old. If you’re wondering why this discovery is so intriguing to researchers, the information that one can learn will shed light on how early modern humans in Europe were able to establish a complex, progressive, and creative community.

The pieces of the flute (comprised of griffon vulture bone) were found scattered about a small plot in the Hohle Fels cave , located in southern Germany. 12 pieces were gathered and assembled by Nicholas Conard, the University of Tuebingen archaeologist who led the team in the excavation. In the end, the pieces fit together to construct a flute that measuring 22 centimeters. The oldest known instrument in the world displays five holes with a notched end.

Conard believes that the flute is around 35,000 years old with other peers in his field in agreement. According to April Nowell (Paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada), the flute predates any other instruments that have been previously discovered. She also stated that the age of the flute is not that staggeringly older that other finds.

However, the Hohle Fels flute is special because it is more complete and appears slightly older than bone and ivory fragments that have come from seven other flutes recovered in southern German caves. Other flute discoveries of significance include one found in Austria that is estimated at 19,000 years old. In the French Pyrenees mountains, a collection of 22 flutes were discovered and thought to date back 30,000 years ago.

Conard and his team excavated the flute in September 2008, around the same time that they recovered six ivory fragments from the Hohle Fels cave that created the figurine of a female that they hope will turn out to be the oldest known sculpture of the human form. Uncovered in the same layer of sediment, the flute and the figure permits the assumption that modern humans created an advanced culture in Europe that dates back 35,000 years. Just how advanced the people were is a question hard to answer at the time, but what researchers do know , they were working with objects that illustrate advanced living , like personal décor, musical instruments, and figurative art.

It is known that Neanderthals lived in Europe about the same time that the flute and sculpture were made. They are also tied to the Hohle Fels cave region. However, upon analyzing the layered deposits, it is believed that both species left behind more than thousands of years of evidence and artifacts that belong to early modern humans.

A Controversial Comparison

When it comes to old bone artifacts, we have to mention the case of archaeologist Ivan Turk, who in 1995 excavated a bear bone artifact from a cave situated in Slovenia. This artifact became known as the Divje Babe flute and was dated to have existed around 43,000 years ago. Turk suggested that the Neanderthals had created the flute, even though other archeologists argued otherwise. They challenged this theory, believing that the twin holes (measuring 11 centimeters long) found on the specimen were created by the bite of a carnivore. Turk has failed to respond to this latest find.