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35,000-year-old flute Professor Nicholas Conard shows a 35,000-years-old flute during a press conference in Tuebingen, Germany, on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. Scientists say it is the oldest handmade musical instrument yet discovered. (Photo: Daniel Maurer/AP Images)

First Flute Found

Scientists discover the world's oldest musical instrument

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
The 35,000-year-old flute was found in Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany. Map:©Mapping Specialists, Ltd.
The 35,000-year-old flute was found in Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany. Map:©Mapping Specialists, Ltd.

Imagine yourself living 35,000 years ago. What would a typical evening in your family's cave be like? After eating the food your parents hunted and gathered, would you have a rock-throwing contest with your sister? Would you draw pictures in the dirt? A new discovery suggests you might pass the time making music on a flute.

A group of scientists have unearthed a 35,000-year-old flute in Germany. They believe it is the oldest handcrafted musical instrument ever discovered.

Professor Nicholas Conard led the team of archaeologists, or scientists who study the remains of ancient cultures, that found the flute. The team reconstructed the instrument from 12 separate pieces they dug up from the floor of a cave in southern Germany.

The instrument is about eight-and-a-half inches long. It is made from the wing bone of a vulture. (A vulture is a large bird that feeds on the meat of dead animals.) One end of the flute has two V-shaped notches. Conard says that's where a musician would blow to produce sound. Five finger holes are carved into the instrument. As with modern flutes, the player would cover one or more of the holes while blowing on the flute to make different tones.

"It's [clearly] the oldest instrument in the world," Conard told news organization Associated Press (AP). Conard described the historic discovery for the journal Nature in June.

The ancient flute was too fragile to play, so Conard and another researcher made a copy of the instrument from the same type of vulture bone as the original. They were able to play a number of songs, including "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Creative Culture

This flute is just the latest evidence suggesting that early humans in Europe were artistically creative. While researching the same cave where the bone flute was found, Conard's team discovered a statue of a female made of ivory. They believe that, at 40,000 years old, it is the oldest known sculpture of a human.

The team also found other works of art. Among them were ivory carvings that, pieced together, resemble a horse's head, and a statue of a half-human, half-lion creature.

Conard and many other experts believe that music and art strengthened the bonds of community for early humans in Europe. In addition, their creativity helped them develop better communication skills. Strong communities and advanced communication skills enabled early humans to survive difficult living conditions to establish the modern societies we have today.

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