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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Brief History of Music....

Not long ago, the remains of a vulture bone flute and a mammoth ivory flute were found in the refuse pits of 35,000 to 40,000 year old human settlements. Wow. These are the oldest verified musical instrument found. There are some claims that even older flutes have been found at a Neanderthal site that could be as old as 80,000 years old, but there is some debate about whether those "flutes" were actually flutes, or just the side effects of hungry predators punching holes in cave bear arm bones. After reading through what evidence DNA could find on the internet, he is inclined to believe that the older cave bear bone "flutes" are indeed actual flutes and not just flutes in quotations.

Regardless of which flute is the oldest, knowing that a musical instrument exists at that time means that we must presuppose many, many things. First, a reconstruction of the vulture bone flute produced recognizable musical tones in a recognizable set of intervals. DNA crapped his pants when he heard a sound file of the flute. This was a big deal.

Why is this a big deal, and why crap your pants, you might ask DNA? Well, to answer the first question, it is a big deal because if the tones were in a recognizably spaced pattern, i.e., a scale, and one that approximated a modern scale, then this means a modern conception of musical syntax must have existed at that time, too. But, not just at that time. The musical understanding had to pre-date the flute by a long time. How many generations of singers would have to pass before the concept of how music works would be comfortable enough as a social tool for an artisan to spend a lot of time to first figure out that wind power from human lungs can produce ordered tones in hollow tubes? Scale lengths, materials, hole sizes and spacing would all have to be experimented with over long periods of time, too. DNA guesses that the concept of music probably pre-dates the first musical instruments by tens of thousands of years. Which means, that music and speech are likely developmental milestones in our species which occurred roughly at the same time.

If the Neanderthal flute is the real deal, then the development of music very well might pre-date our species, and DNA can't tell you how geeked out he is about that possibility.

Follow these friendly links for more information about the story:

Oldest Human Musical Instruments

Oldest Musical Instruments Found

Neanderthal Flute

To answer the second question, DNA crapped his pants because it was time to crap, and when the times comes, DNA waits for no man, or, as in this case, he waits for no sound file of a 40,000 year old instrument to finish playing, either.

Editing is Hard...

DNA is having difficulty finding the time to edit the massive volume that is the collected "Twin Rockets Are A Go, Baby!" But this weekend is likely to see the final version forwarded to the publisher...