The Neanderthal Flute

Every parent dreads the day that their child comes home with a recorder. No, not the one that sits in your pocket and waits for someone to say “Okay Google.” I mean the little recorder/ children’s flute. The one that looks something like this:

A children’s recorder

They’re a good choice for a first instrument. Easy to learn, simple to use for small fingers. Children never seem to learn to play as quickly as parents seem to run out of patience for the squeaky high-pitched noises their child will somehow convince the recorder to make.

What parents may not know is that this recorder is probably the oldest instrument. The Neanderthal flute, a simple flute with four holes, is estimated to be about 60,000 years old. Scientists found it in the Divje Babe cave in Slovenia. Neanderthals made the flute from the bone of a cave bear. The flute is 20,000 years older than any previously found instruments. It’s also the only known instrument made by Neanderthals. Stone tools were used to make it and were found near the flute along with other cave bear bones. Ivan Turk discovered the flute and tools in 1995.

The next known musical instruments appear to be flutes found in Germany near the Danube river. Estimates put these flutes around 42,000 to 43,000 years old. They were made from mammoth ivory and bird bones. These two flutes are the oldest known instruments made by Homo Sapiens.

The Neanderthal Flute is kept on display at the National Museum of Slovenia.

So next time your child brings home a recorder and decides to serenade the family at Christmas dinner with what might have been “Silent Night”, just remember that they’re following in some of humanity’s oldest footsteps. We just can’t believe it took thousands of years to develop earplugs.

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Jackie Standaert

I'm an office worker by day, a historian by night. At some point, I'll have enough money saved to get my Ph.D. in History, but for now, my B.A. will have to do.

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