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New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany

Abstract

Considerable debate surrounds claims for early evidence of music in the archaeological record1,2,3,4,5. Researchers universally accept the existence of complex musical instruments as an indication of fully modern behaviour and advanced symbolic communication1 but, owing to the scarcity of finds, the archaeological record of the evolution and spread of music remains incomplete. Although arguments have been made for Neanderthal musical traditions and the presence of musical instruments in Middle Palaeolithic assemblages, concrete evidence to support these claims is lacking1,2,3,4. 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. Other than the caves of the Swabian Jura, the earliest secure archaeological evidence for music comes from sites in France and Austria and post-date 30,000 years ago6,7,8.

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Figure 1: Bone flute from Hohle Fels archaeological horizon Vb.
Figure 2: Fragments of ivory flutes from Hohle Fels and Vogelherd.
Figure 3: The stratigraphic positions of flutes 1–3 from Hohle Fels and associated radiocarbon dates.

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Acknowledgements

Many of our colleagues, including S. Bailey, H. Bocherens, M. Bolus, K. Deckers, S. Feine, H. Floss, P. Goldberg, P. Grootes, W. Hein, T. Higham, M. Hofreiter, M. Kucera, L. Moreau, L. Niven, D. Richter, S. Riehl, F. H. Smith, H.-P. Uerpmann and S. Wolf, contributed to this research. We are particularly indebted to C. E. Miller for discussions on stratigraphy, to B. Ligouis for his microscopic images of flute 1 from Hohle Fels and to P. Krönneck for identification of bird bones. This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the University of Tübingen, the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg, the Alb-Donau-Kreis, Heidelberg Cement, the Museumsgesellschaft Schelklingen and the Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte.

Author Contributions N.J.C. directs the project and wrote the paper. M.M. coordinates the excavation and laboratory work at Hohle Fels. S.C.M. conducts faunal analysis at Hohle Fels.

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Correspondence to Nicholas J. Conard.

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Conard, N., Malina, M. & Münzel, S. New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany. Nature 460, 737–740 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08169

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