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Ancient flutes suggest artistically skilled early modern humans

The discovery of flutes signified that these early humans shared songs and had artistic prowess, even earlier than previously thought.

Bird-bone and ivory flutes that the archaeologists have come across are at least 35,000 years old. The flutes' design and studies of other artifacts from the site suggest that music was an integral part of human life far earlier than first thought.
Researchers were studying a modern human settlement called 'Geißenklösterle', a part of the Swabian caves system in southern Germany, when they came across the bone flutes. They also found a collection of perforated teeth, ornaments and stone tools at the site.

"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," study researcher Nick Conard, of Tübingen University, said in a statement.
"Geißenklösterle 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."

The Aurignacian culture is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. The oldest known example of figurative art, the 'Venus of Hohle Fels', comes from this culture. The Aurignacian tool industry is characterized by worked bone or antler points with grooves cut in the bottom.

People belonging to this culture also produced some of the earliest known cave art, such as the animal engravings at Aldène and the paintings at Chauvet cave in southern France. They also made pendants, bracelets and ivory beads, and three-dimensional figurines.

By carbon dating, the objects were found out to be between 42,000 and 43,000 years old, belonging to the Aurignacian culture dating from the upper Paleolithic period. So far, these dates are the earliest for the Aurignacian and predate equivalent sites from Italy, France, England and other regions.

"Modern humans during the Aurignacian period were in central Europe at least 2,000 to 3,000 years before this climatic deterioration, when huge icebergs calved from ice sheets in the northern Atlantic and temperatures plummeted," study researcher Tom Higham, of Oxford University, said in a statement. "The question is what effect this downturn might have had on the people in Europe at the time."

The site was settled by modern humans, but it's possible that Neanderthals were also in the area at the same time, though the researchers haven't been able find evidence of any cultural contact or interbreeding between the two groups in this part of Europe.

The study was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.