Thursday, August 06, 2009

early music

I have now read the paper on the 40,000 year old flute from the Hohle Fels cave in Southwest Germany, which came out in print in today's issue of Nature (online in June). Really exciting stuff. Just imagine you're going through a layer of sediment which you know with absolute certainty to be > 35 k years old and you find bits of a musical instrument. The first author says in the front section of the magazine that it was a shock, which is probably an understatement. I would probably have died from a heart attack on the spot.

Looking at the photos, the instrument looks really sophisticated as well. For instance, the surroundings of the holes are flattened to make it easier to find the hole and to close it precisely with the finger. The mouthpiece looks intriguing as well. In the interview at the front of the magazine the first author says that a replica of the flute is now available (finding a matching vulture bone seems to have been the rate-limiting step!), so I am looking forward to finding out more about the musical properties of the instrument.

Also, still intrigued about a possible link with the vaguely simultaneous disappearance of the Neanderthals (about which there is a nice feature by Kate Wong in the August issue of Scientific American). The image of a pied piper comes to mind ...

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