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Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 19:59 GMT
Oldest flute sounds again
Carrington
By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington in Washington DC

After 50,000 years of silence, the music of a prehistoric flute has been heard once again.

AAAS Expo
This sonorous trip into the Neolithic era began with the discovery of several broken instruments in Divje Bave, a cave in Slovenia. They are thought to be the world's oldest musical instruments.

They were carved from the leg bones of bears and unearthed alongside Neanderthal tools and an ancient fireplace. The recovered flute fragments have just two holes and were recovered from the dig in 1995.

But now musician and archaeologist Dr Jelle Atema, from Boston University, has reconstructed the flute using a genuine 50,000-year-old bear bone.

He said the range of the flute would have been less than an octave and showed that the pitch could be changed by blowing harder.

But it would always be a mystery why early humans first started making music: "I believe it may go back as far as 200,000 years," he said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One theory is that Neanderthal males used music to charm women, he said. "It's one of many hypotheses that I entertain with pleasure.

"But there are certainly simpler explanations. It could have been a hunting instrument, used to attract birds or it could have accompanied dancing."

Dr Atema also played two reconstructions of ancient French flutes. The first was made from a 40,000-year-old deer bone whilst the second was a relatively young 4,000 years old and made from the bone of a vulture.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Listen to the flute
Dr Jelle Atema plays the instrument
See also:

18 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
28 Sep 99 | Science/Nature
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