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August 18th, 2009
In the News: Oldest Musical Instruments

Written music — in its modern form

Talk about “oldies” music! Scientists recently uncovered the oldest musical instruments, in the form of carved bone and ivory flutes. The pieces were found in Germany and are at least 35,000 years old. Whoever the early modern humans were who made these musical instruments, they clearly had what we’re calling the human spark! The ephemeral music that our ancient ancestors made of course never made it into the fossil record. But these objects hint at the sophistication of their cultural lives. The flutes are also important because they suggest a major difference between modern humans and Neanderthals – both of whom lived in Europe during this time period. Theories abound to explain why music first emerged: does it relate to our cognitive skills like language, or was it used to attract mates, or to build group unity and social cohesion? Why do you think people played these flutes so many thousands of years ago?

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