Earliest instruments

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Archaeologists have identified the world’s oldest instruments, showing that early modern humans were making music 40,000 years ago.

Two flutes, one made from bird bone and the other from mammoth ivory, were uncovered during excavations at Geißenklösterle cave in south-west Germany between 1973 and 1990.

Now, researchers led by the University of Oxford’s Prof. Tom Higham have obtained new radiocarbon dates for animal bones found in the same layer as the instruments, suggesting a date of c.40,000-41,000 BC. This pre-dates another bone flute, also from south-west Germany, dated in 2009 to c.35,000 years old, and previously held to be the earliest. The new findings suggest the Aurignacian culture began at the site 2,000-3,000 years earlier than previously thought, and that modern humans lived in central Europe before the extremely cold climate phase of c.39,000-40,000 years ago, rather than arriving after it.

This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 54. Click here to subscribe

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