NEANDERTHAL FLUTE – THE FLUTE FROM DIVJE BABE

The oldest musical instrument in the world, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute is a treasure of global significance.It was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno and has been declared by experts to have been made by Neanderthals. 
 
It is made from the left thighbone of a young cave bear and has four pierced holes. Musical experiments confirmed findings of archaeological research that the size and the position of the holes cannot be accidental – they were made with the intention of musical expression.
 
The flute from Divje babe is the oldest Palaeolithic flute known to date worldwide and the only one that was definitely made by Neanderthals. It is about 20,000 years older than other Palaeolithic flutes, which are contemporaneous with the appearance of the anatomically modern people in Europe. This discovery confirms that the Neanderthals were, like us, fully developed spiritual beings capable of sophisticated artistic expression.
 

See the oldest musical instrument in the world at the National Museum of Slovenia, and listen to how it sounds.

Here  you can see a 3D image of the flute.

 
 
Where does it come from
The bone flute was discovered in 1995 in the cave of Divje babe near Cerkno during systematic excavations led by Ivan Turk. The cave lies below the north-eastern edge of the Šebrelje plateau, 230 meters above the Idrijca River. The cave, which was otherwise a den for cave bears, was used occasionally during the last Glaciation as a shelter for humans as well, first by the Neanderthals and afterwards by the first Cro-Magnons. The flute lay alongside one of the hearths.
 
How old is it
Based on the dating of the layer in which the flute was discovered, it is about 60,000-50,000 years old and belongs to the Old Stone Age (the Palaeolithic). The flute from Divje babe is about 20,000 years older than other known flutes, made by anatomically modern humans. 
 
Who made it
The flute is for the time being unique, not merely in Europe but also throughout the rest of the world. A Neanderthal individual made it.
About 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis developed in Europe and later expanded all the way to West Asia and Middle East. They were named after the site Neanderthal in Germany where fossil remains were first recognized in 1856. They lived in the glacial period and were physically adapted to harsh and cold climates. They became extinct about 40,000 years ago, the reason for which is the subject of numerous theories. 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
A Neanderthal with a flute.

 
How was it made
With practical experiments with the replicas of the tools, discovered in the cave, archaeologists explained how the Neanderthals made the holes in the flute: with a pointed stone tool, a small hollow was carved in the bone, and it was pierced with a bone punch. The result was a hole.
Various analyses and experiments proved the impossibility of the holes being attributed to animal bites or a coincidence.
 
The significance of the find
The Neanderthal flute from Divje babe is the oldest known musical instrument in the world and to this day the best evidence for the existence of music in Neanderthals. Indeed, other known Palaeolithic flutes were made by anatomically modern humans.
The flute from Divje babe is of exceptional importance in understanding the cultural and, indirectly, the biological development of our ancestors. The find radically undermines until recently inveterate conceptions of Neanderthals as primitive hominids. It testifies to the fact that they were innovative and sensitive people capable of artistic expression.
 
 
Curiosities
The preserved length of the thighbone, a mouthpiece (deliberately sharpened edge at the top) and the results of CT scans allowed an accurate and authentic reconstruction of the instrument which is, in terms of musical performance, superior to the other reconstructed Palaeolithic musical instruments. It is ergonomically adapted to a right-handed musician.
 
You can enjoy listening to the melodies masterfully played on a copy of the Neanderthal flute by musician Ljuben Dimkaroski. CDs Prazvok davnine – A sound from the past are available at the  museum shop.
 
Ljuben Dimkaroski playing the copy of the Neanderthal flute from Divje babe.


Details

  • Object: Neanderthal flute – the flute from Divje babe
  • Description: The oldest flute in the world. It is pierced by two well-preserved and three damaged holes. The flute from Divje babe is the oldest of Palaeolithic flutes known to the present throughout the world and at the same time the first reliably proven to be made by a Neanderthal. As far as we now know, Neanderthals were the first among the closest human relatives that made musical instruments. The flute from Divje babe testifies to the fact that Neanderthals were capable of such an abstract and uniquely human activity as creating music.
  • Date/Period: 60,000 years before the present, Palaeolithic
  • Material: Cave bear bone (femur)
  • Dimensions: Length: 11.4 cm
  • Findspot: The cave of Divje babe cave near Cerkno, Slovenia
  • Inv. No: D. b. 625
  • Location: Permanent exhibition Prehistorical Treasures of the National Museum of Slovenia at the National Museum of Slovenia

Further reading

  • Ivan Turk: Divje Babe I. Paleolitsko najdišče mlajšega pleistocena v Sloveniji (2. del: Arheologija) / Upper Pleistocene Palaeolithic site in Slovenia (Part 2: Archaeology). Opera Instituti Archaeologici Sloveniae 29, Ljubljana 2014.
  • Ivan Turk: Divje Babe I. Paleolitsko najdišče mlajšega pleistocena v Sloveniji (1. del: Geologija in paleontologija) / Upper Pleistocene palaeolithic site in Slovenia (Part 1: Geology and Palaeontology). Opera Instituti Archaeologici Sloveniae 13, Ljubljana 2007.
  • Ljuben Dimkaroski: Glasbena raziskovanja najdbe iz Divjih bab I. Neandertalčeva piščal: od domnevne piščali do sodobnega glasbila. Argo 53/2, 2010, str. 10–17. (pdf, 909 KB)