Forty Thousand Years of Musical Tradition

“Here we report the discovery of bone and ivory flutes from the early Aurignacian period of southwestern Germany. These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago.”

“An almost complete flute made out of the bones of griffon vulture was found in 2008 at Hohle Fels, in a cave in Southern Germany.  It has five finger holes, a V-shaped mouthpiece and is 0.3 inches (8 millimetres) wide and was 13 inches (34 centimetres) long when it was whole.

The Hohle Fels lies about 1 km northeast of Schelklingen along the Ach valley. Here on the right slope rise Jurassic limestone cliffs over 20 meters high. The entrance to the Hohle Fels cave is at the foot. A corridor of about 15 meters leads to one of the largest and most impressive subterranean caves of Baden-Württemberg.”

Hohle Fels has only one major cavern and this is a picture of it during a tour. “The flute was found in 12 pieces. The fragments were distributed over a vertical distance of 3 cm over a horizontal area of about 10 x 20 cm. This flute is by far the most complete of all of the musical instruments thus far recovered from the caves of Swabia.”


“These finds demonstrate that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys of southwestern Germany. Most of these flutes are from archaeological contexts containing an abundance of organic and lithic artifacts, hunted fauna, and burnt bone. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the sites played musical instruments in diverse social and cultural contexts and that flutes were discarded with many other forms of occupational debris. In the case of Hohle Fels, the location of the bone flute in a thin archaeological horizon only 70 cm away from a female figurine of similar age suggests that a possible contextual link exists between these two finds.”

And as Erik the Flutemaker said when he tried to remake this ancient flute, “it’s like the first penny whistle.” And here is what the Irish Penny Whistle sounds like forty thousand years later.

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