The Elements of Evolution (77-4) Musical Instruments

Musical Instruments

Music may have long been part of the hominin experience. The first unequivocal evidence of musical activity came from Geißenklösterle Cave in Germany. There a flute was found, made of a swan’s bone 42.5 TYA.

Beginning 80 TYA, the Isturitz Cave in southwest France was occupied for some 70,000 years. Over 20 bone flutes were found there, made 40–26 TYA. Some of the flutes were designed to be played 2-handed. They had chamfered holes to maximize acoustic efficiency. Some of the flutes appear polished by frequent use.

The existence of music in the Stone Age is attested by various instruments besides flutes: whistles, scrapers, and bullroarers. A bullroarer is a weighted airfoil (rectangular slat of wood) attached to a long cord. Swinging it in the air produces low-frequency sounds that travel long distances. Varying the rotation and twist in various ways alters pitch.

Drums of wood and skin were likely made, through rarely ever preserved. Calcite (carbonate crystal) sheets have been found in caves that show traces of percussive use.