World's Oldest Musical Instruments Discovered
May 27, 2012

World’s Oldest Musical Instruments Discovered

According to a new paper published in the latest edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, researchers from Germany and the UK claim that they have identified the oldest known musical instruments on Earth.

The research, conducted by experts from Oxford University and Tuebingen University, used carbon dating to discover that flutes crafted from the bones of birds and ivory from mammoth tusks were from between 42,000 and 43,000 years old, BBC News reported on Friday.

The flutes, which were used by the Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period, were originally discovered at Geissenkloesterle Cave in southern Germany by a team lead by Tuebingen Professor Nick Conard back in 2009.

They were then dated by Oxford University Professor Tom Higham, who used improved ultrafiltration methods in order to remove contamination from the collagen preserved in the bones and discovered that they were 2,000 to 3,000 years older than previously believed.

"High-resolution dating of this kind is essential for establishing a reliable chronology for testing ideas to help explain the expansion of modern humans into Europe, and the processes that led to the wide range of cultural innovations, including the advent of figurative art and music," Higham said in a statement Thursday.

"These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago," Conard added. "Geissenkloesterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments. The new dates prove the great antiquity of the Aurignacian in Swabia."

Their findings suggest that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase, which occurred between 39,000 and 40,000 years ago, rather than immediately afterwards as previously believed.

"The results are also important for considering the relationship between early moderns and Neanderthals in Europe," the Oxford University press release also noted. "Despite a major effort to identify archaeological signatures of interaction between Neanderthals and modern humans in this region, researchers have yet to identify indications of any cultural contact or interbreeding in this part of Europe."

According to BBC News, experts believe that music may have been used in recreation and/or religious rites, and that it could have also "played a role in the maintenance of larger social networks, which may have helped our species expand their territory at the expense of the more conservative Neanderthals."