Music of the ages

Glenn Morton (
Sun, 20 Oct 1996 16:35:05

Music of the Ages

Copyright 1996 Glenn R. Morton. This can be freely distributed as long
as no charge is made and there are no alterations to the text.

Abstract: An examination of the oldest musical instruments shows that
the oldest music was made by Neanderthals around 80-100,000 years ago.
This is twice as old as the Eastern European Neanderthal Flute reported
this year. Evidence for pre-60,000 year old musical instruments comes
from three continents, many examples of two types of instruments, and
thus is not an isolated occurrence. The first section examines the
ancient musical instruments made by anatomically modern men (back to
30,000 years); the second part looks at the Neanderthal flutes and


Music has always been extremely important to man. So important, that all
known human societies have some form of music.(1) Bruno Netti states,

"The most ubiquitous use of music, however, is as part of religious
ritual. In some tribal societies, music appears to serve as a special
form of communication with supernatural beings, and its prominent use in
modern Christian and Jewish services may be a remnant of just such an
original purpose."(2)

This is an important fact to remember as we go back through the history
of musical instruments. If music is most often used for religious
purposes, the fact that a culture made music is probably indicative of


The history of music and musical instruments goes a long way back into
the past. The oldest musical notation that I was able to find goes back
to 800 B.C. It is carved on a stone and is undecipherable (3) The
earliest historical references to music come from China and Mesopotamia.
In 2697 B.C. the Emperor Huang Ti (Huang Ti means Emperor in Mandarin so
whoever wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica article failed to get the
emperor name-GRM) sent Ling Lun to make bamboo flutes. (4) The Sumerians
had stringed instruments, reed instruments and drums (3).

But music is found much earlier than that, although the number of
instruments become much fewer. The reason for this is the durability of
wood and skin artefacts. The only objects which appear from much earlier
than this are those made of very durable material, such as bone,
although bone is not as durable as many would surmise. Because of the
progressive destruction of perishable musical instruments, the bone
flute and bone whistles become the major survivors from earlier periods.

found. Marshack describes it,

"In cabinet number one at the Musee des Antiquites Nationales in
1965, there lay a tiny gray, broken bit of hollow eagle bone. It was
some 4 1/2 inches long (11 cm), had been cut by a flint knife at one
end, and was broken at thee other. It came from a level approximately
13,000 to 15,000 years old, was dated as late middle Magdalenian and
came from the same site of Le Placard that gave us the two earlier
Magdalenian batons. Worked or decorated bird bones are not uncommon in
the Upper Paleolithic. Some have blow holes cut into them, indicating
their use as whistles or flutes, and they can be blown to give a high,
piping, flute sound." (5)

This beautiful flute is engraved on the outside by two linear sequences
of parallel lines, and six sets of nested chevrons. The flute, as a
flute, is very simple and could only make one sound. It had no finger
holes to alter the pitch. Thus, technically this was a whistle.

The oldest picture of a flute may be from an 18,000 year old French
site. Coles and Higgs observe,

At Les Trois Freres (Ariege), a semi-human figure seems to be playing
either a musical bow (although musically this is not in the correct
position) or a flute. The association of the semi-humans at this site,
with grouped animals, seems to indicate some ceremonial activity,
whether it be sympathetic magic or not and music by this time had been
in existence for some thousands of years."(6)

Another type of whistle used in ancient times was a reindeer phalange
which was drilled through. When blown, it whistles. Megaw observed of

"The earliest evidence we have for blown instruments are those
made from reindeer phalanges pierced on one surface which when blown
across between the tips of the articular condyles emit a shrill whistle.
Often regarded -- largely on the evidence of modern parallels -- as
decoy whistles, these objects, whose method of playing is exactly that
of the modern cross-flute, have been found in Upper Palaeolithic
occupation sites in France, at for example La Madeleine and Solutre, and
in Central Europe at Dolni Vestonice and the cave of Pekarna. They have
also occurred on comparable sites in North America. "(7)

Megaw's description of the phalanges is accurate, but phalanges are not
the earliest evidence of blown instruments, but that comes later. The
claim for the "earliest" is one that is found quite often, and is
usually wrong. I cited Megaw in order to convey what a phalange whistle
was. Megaw continues (I will insert the approximate age of the various
sites, that I could find,in Megaw's text),

"To return to our catalogue: at the Hungarian cave site of
Istallosko,[Istallosko-There is a 31,000 B.P. but this particular flute
may have been from younger levels. see (9)--GRM] in an occupation level
dated to Aurignacian II, the excavators found not only two pierced
reindeer phalanges but also the femur of a cave bear having three holes,
one in the centre of the posterior surface and two on the anterior. The
larger of these near the proximal epiphysis measures some 11mm. across,
close to the size of the lip hole of a modern cross-blown flute, and as
the position of the epiphysis does not allow the lips to cover the open
end it must be presumed that here was an early ancestor of the notch
flutes of present-day primitive groups. Be that as it may, Istallosko
does not stand alone, for several other Central European cave sites of
an Aurignacian II date have produced pierced long bones. Lokve in what
used to be Fiume had a curved bone -- once more that of a cave bear --
with three 'finger holes' pierced on one side. The bird's ulna from
Drachen, Mixnitz, has three large holes and several smaller -- a more
doubtful candidate. ... On the other hand in a bone from Salzhofen in
Austria we have a closer analogy to Istallosko with two holes on one
side and three on the other. Returning to France, in the Aurignacian
levels of the cave of Isturitz [~27,000 B.P. based on it being a
Perigordian site See ref. 5, p.96-97--GRM], Basses-Pyrenees, was found
part of the cubitus of a large bird, which the excavators think may have
been a vulture. The broken end preserves part of a sub-rectangular
hole, while below it are two other complete holes. In the later series
of excavations of the Aurignacian III levels at the same site some seven
other pierced bird bones were found, one having indications of four
holes of which three must have been finger holes. The simple notch
decoration which ornament it was found on other examples as well.
Coming full circle the nearest parallel to Istallosko is to be found in
a reindeer radius from Badegoule dated by its association with Solutrean
leaf-shaped blades[Solutrean was approx. 20,000 years B.P.--GRM]. At
the damaged distal end is one large hole repeated by a smaller on the
opposite side which also has a second hole at the proximal end."(8)

Of the Isturitz find, the original report, written in French, describes
it thusly,

"Enfin, j'ai decouvert en 1921, une piece qui est sans doute unique, un
gros os d'Oiseau, malheureusement brise a une de ses extremites, mais
qui porte encore sur une seule rangee trois larges trous, comme dans une
sorte de flute (pl. VII). C'est, sans doute, le plus ancien instrument
de musique connu."(10)

"At last, I uncovered in 1921 a piece which is without doubt, unique, a
big bird bone, unfortunately broken at the ends, but because still
carried three holes, like that of some sort of flute. It is without
doubt the most ancient musical instrument found." [trans. by David

Gravettian sites in eastern Europe, also have yielded several flutes.
Coles and Higgs report,

"Also in Moravia are the important Gravettian sites of Predmost,
Pavlov and Brno. At Pavlov a large number of hut plans have been
identified, oval, round and five-sided in shape, with some postholes and
hearths. The associated industry included decorated bone and ivory
objects including animals and human figures, and a number of phalange
whistles; the occupation has been radiocarbon dated to c. 25,000

At Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia, flutes are found. This site is
approximately 27,000 years old. Coles and Higgs relate,

"Decorative objects include perforated shells and other pendants, and
tubular beads; bone tubes, one with a plug of resin, probably were

The oldest flute today, comes from Abri Blanchard from 30,000 years


Up to this point all musical instruments have been younger than 30,000
years B.P. I wanted to establish above what instruments have been
preserved which were made by modern man between 15,000 and 30,000 years
ago. There are two kinds of instruments, phalange whistles and flutes.
Amazingly, these same instruments are found at Neanderthal sites but in
spite of this, statements continue to be made that the oldest flute is
30,000 years old made by modern man. These statments are simply not
true. Examples of these kinds of statements are,

Bowers:"Music assumed an important role; the first known instrument, a
bone flute found in France, dates to around 30,000 years ago."(14)

Hugh Ross:"Bipedal, tool-using, large-brained primates (called hominids
by anthropologists) may have roamed the earth as long ago as one million
years, but religious relics and altars date back only 8,000 to 24,000
years. Thus, the secular archaeological date for the first spirit
creatures is in complete agreement with the biblical date.
"Some differences, however, between the Bible and secular
anthropology remain. By the biblical definition, these hominids may
have been intelligent mammals, but they were not humans. Nor did Adam
and Eve physically descend from them. (According to Genesis 1:26-28 the
human species was created complete and brand-new by God through His own
personal miraculous intervention.) Even here, though, support from
anthropology is emerging. New evidence indicates that the various
hominid species may have gone extinct before, or as a result of, the
appearance of modern humans. At the very least,'abrupt transitions
between [hominid]species' is widely acknowledged."(15)

Ross's reference was to Bowers article (14).

Bernard Ramm objected to an old creation of Adam.

Ramm:"In the fourth and fifth chapters of Genesis we have lists of
names, ages of people, towns, agriculture, metallurgy, and music. This
implies the ability to write, to count, to build, to farm, to smelt, and
to compose. Further, this is done by the immediate descendants of Adam.
Civilization does not reveal any evidence of its existence till about
8000 B.C. or, to some 16,000 B.C. We can hardly push it back to 500,000
B.C. It is problematic to interpret Adam as having been created at
200,000 B.C. or earlier, with civilization not coming into existence
till say 8000 B.C."(16)

(So what are Christians to think when they find out that Neanderthals
80,000 years ago were composing music and making musical instruments 90-
100,000 years ago?)

Tattersall:"The subject of behavior is complicated by the fact that
whereas in Europe Upper Paleolithic stone and bone tools were associated
from the beginning with evidence of 'creativity' in the form of
engravings, sculpture, notation, musical instruments, and so forth, this
was not the case in the Levant. What's more, the earliest Upper
Paleolithic tools from Boker Tachtit, while fully Upper Paleolithic in
concept, were made using techniques that had been current in the Middle
Paleolithic. However, since anatomically modern humans had made Middle
Paleolithic tools for the first 50 kyr of their existence, we probably
shouldn't find this too surprising."(17)

Christians have uncritically accepted these statements and used them as
support for apologetical positions. I have found it curious that
Christian apologists would so quickly grab hold of the Upper Paleolithic
European "artistic explosion" as evidence of a recent creation of Adam.
As Tattersall claims, the "explosion" was in Europe not the Middle East;
and indeed, the advent of art in the Middle East was later than in
Europe. Do we really think that Adam was created in SW France? The
French probably do, but that is an uncertain apologetic for

While Bowers (a journalist), Ross (an astronomer) and Ramm (a theologian
writing before these discoveries) might be forgiven for not being aware
of even more ancient Neanderthal-made, musical instruments, Tattersall,
an anthropolosist should be familiar with the literature of his
profession. (And a Christian apologist should be extremely thorough.)
These objects were found as early as in 1955 and reported in the
scientific literature by 1967 by McBurney. What this illustrates is
what Bednarik, an Australian anthropologist, has called the Eurocentric
bias of anthropology, the belief that all things anthropological started
in Europe and the Upper Paleolithic. In point of fact, neither art nor
music began in Europe.

I have been able to find many more examples of musical instruments which
were made by Neanderthal. The most recent find was one I have mentioned
several times is also the youngest. It is a flute, which is made in the
same fashion as the Upper Paleolithic flutes made by modern men noted
above. Thus the tradition of flute making continues unaltered across the
Neanderthal/Modern man transition. David Keys writes,

"Deep inside a cave in Slovenia, in the north of former Yugoslavia,
archaeologists have unearthed the world's oldest true musical instrument
- a flute which appears to have been made by Neanderthals around 45,000
years ago."(18)

But like lots of claims for being the oldest, it isn't. Neanderthals
made phalange whistles (just like anatomically modern man. One was
found at La Quina(19), which dates to 64,000 years ago.(20) This is a
musical instrument from prior to the time Hugh Ross says should be. Dr.
Ross has repeatedly stated that it is Biblically unacceptable for there
to be any evidence of spirituality prior to 60,000 years. As long as
Christians make these types of claims, we will set the Bible up to be
disproven all too easily. He writes:

"In the case of the cave drawings and pottery fragments, the
degree of abstractness suggests the expression of something more than
just intelligence. Certainly no animals species other than human beings
has ever exhibited the capacity for such sophisticated expression.
However, the dates for these finds are well within the biblically
acceptable range for the appearance of Adam and Eve -- somewhere between
10,000 and 60,000 years ago according to Bible scholars who have
carefully analyzed the genealogies. Since the oldest art and fabrics
date between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago, no contradiction exists
between anthropology and Scripture on this issue."(21)

But this is not the end of the Neanderthal musical instruments. They
extend much further into the past.
The oldest flute I have been able to find is a from Haua Fteah in
Libya. It is had at least two perforations and thus was much more
complex than the first flute I mentioned above, the Le Placard Eagle
bone flute. McBurney notes,

"To these may be added a remarkable bone object most plausibly explained
as a fragment of a vertical 'flute' or multiple pitch whistle, from spit
1955/64. In this position although directly associated only with a few
non-diagnostic chips, splinters and splinters of bone it is none the
less attributable to the Pre-Aurignacian owing to the clear indications
provided by the overlying spits 1955/61-58, to be discussed in the next
chapter. These last show every affinity with the material culture as
described and certainly indicate the continued existence of the
tradition in the area.
"In all important respects preserved the bone tube reproduces the
features of known paleolithic flutes from the European Gravettian both
in the East and West, although older by a factor of at least 2 than any
other specimen known."(22)

This object was recovered from the earliest, deepest occupation level at
Haua Fteah, Libya. Glynn Isaac describes the dating of the layer in
which the flute was found. (Mousterian levels are the Neanderthal layers
and these were the layers that yielded two Neanderthal mandibles) He

"The stratigraphy at this cave site in Cyrenaica appears to span an
unusually large segment of Late Pleistocene time and consequently
deserves mention apart from its representation in the frequency
distribution patterns of C14 dates. About 5 metres of deposits were
excavated below 'Mousterian' levels which have been C14 dated as

W 85 Layer XXVIII(Mousterian) 0.034.000+/-0.0028 x 106
GrN 2564 XXVIII(Mousterian) 0.0434 +/-0.0013 x 106
GrN 2022 XXVIII(rest fraction) 0.04 +/-0.0015 x 106
GrN 2023 XXVIII(bone fraction) 0.47 +/-0.032 x 106

"Extrapolation of the sedimentation rate down through the
underlying strata gives a reasonable geochronometric estimate of at
least 70 to 80,000 years for the base of the excavation. The small
artefact sample from the lowest levels represents an idiosyncratic
industry which includes fairly numerous blades (McBurney. 1967:91),
burins, Acheulian elements (ibid.:Fig.IV,7:1,2,6), Mousterian elements
(ibid.:Fig.IV, 1:7:Fig.IV,5:4:Fig. Iv, 7:3), the oldest known fossil
musical instrument (ibid.:90: A.IV), and perhaps the oldest shell midden
(ibid.: 99)."(23)

While 70-80,000 years seems old, Neanderthals were making music 10-
20,000 years earlier than this. Prolom II is a Neanderthal site from
the Crimea and it was probably the whistle capital of the ancient world.
Forty one phalange whistles made from Saiga tatarica were found
there.(24) This is an early Wurm site which means it is 90-100,000
years old.

The evidence that music and musical instruments extends back to at least
100,000 years ago, should cause Christians to ponder the ability of our
current apologetical schemes to handle the observational evidence. Only
man manufactures complex instruments of music. And the earliest
Neanderthal flute I have found is more complex than many later examples
made by anatomically modern men. Remember the initial comment made by
Netti concerning the use of music, as a part of religious activities.
Only fallen man engages in religion. Non-spiritual animals do not
worship. The concept that music is part of religious ritual is
supported by the fact that the earliest known underground mines dating
from around 125,000 years ago, were mining pigment which is used by
primitive man for body painting. Music and art are found together at
least as long ago as 100,000 years ago, was carried out by Neanderthals
and archaic homo sapiens. It would seem difficult to reject a flute
making human-like being from the human race. This data is strong
evidence that Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens were human in a
Biblical sense of the word.

If that is true, this implies a change in human morphology from
that time until now. A change of morphology IS evolutionary change. At
the very least these facts require that Neanderthal and Archaic Homo
sapiens were spiritual beings. But Neanderthals first appear on earth
230,000 years ago and archaic homo sapiens appear around 500,000 years
ago. Even Ramm was unwilling to go that far back for human creation,
feeling that that was too much to stretch the genealogies.(25)

These facts also present a tremendous problem for Christian
apologetics. For the old earth people there is the problem of the place
of Adam in the human race. Many of these views hold to a recent creation
of Adam, in the Upper Paleolithic. The problem is that at the same time
the Neanderthals were making whistles in Prolom II, anatomically modern
men were just leaving Africa. Were there two Adams? A Neanderthal Adam
and a anatomically modern Adam? The Bible would support only one,
meaning that the one Adam must be considerably prior to this time. For
the young earth creationist the response to these issues is equally bad.
Morris says that all fossil men are descendants of Adam and that they
lived after the Great Flood,(26), and yet, without these fossil men, he
is left with no evidence of a single fossil man that he can point to and
say that is a victim of the Great Flood.

But all of this does not take into account the evidence that Homo
erectus was a carpenter, a manufacturer of water receptacles, a builder
of pavement and huts, a maker of clothing (which is characteristic of
fallen man) and a user of ochre for body painting. Some of this
evidence goes back as far as 1.7 million years ago. These activities are
quite like the activities of any modern primitive group. Any
apologetical view which holds to an old earth and a recent creation of
Adam, ignores the clear evidence for spirituality among men who are
morphologically archaic.

In light of the antiquity of music, one of the questions
Christians should be asking concerns what musical instruments were they
making out of wood? Wooden objects from times of that antiquity are
extremely rare. Wood, skin and vegetable matter decay very rapidly
leaving no trace in the fossil record. If Neanderthal was capable of
making carved bone flutes, then he was certainly capable of carving
wooden musical instruments which have not survived. Unless we are
willing to believe that the whisles and flutes found in 90,000 years old
strata are the first instruments, the conclusion is inescapable, that
earlier flutes remain to be found. But since it is easier to make a
flute from bamboo or other perishable material, it is quite likely that
the first flutes were probably accidentally discovered by blowing
through a hollow reed or bamboo in which a slit existed. This
technology was probably transferred to bone much later.

The evidence for modern human behavior seems clear. We have three
choices: We can either ignore the evidence; we can conclude that the
Bible is wrong; or we can develop a new apologetic which incorporates
these facts. What I have been suggesting (that the creation of man was
several million years ago) is within the framework that Ramm says is an
acceptable harmonization. Ramm writes:

"The Bible itself offers no dates for the creation of man. We
mean by this that there is no such statement in the text of the Bible at
any place. We may feel that 4000 B.C. or 15,000 B.C. is more consonant
with the Bible than a date of 500,000 B.C. But we must admit that any
date of the antiquity of man is an inference from Scripture, not a plain
declaration of Scripture.
"If the anthropologists are generally correct in their dating of
man (and we believe they are), and if the Bible contains no specific
data as to the origin of man, we are then free to try to work out a
theory of the relationship between the two, respecting both the
inspiration of Scripture and the facts of science."(27)


1. Bruno Netti, "Music" 1994 Microsoft Encarta.
2. Ibid.
3. "Music, Western" Encyclopedia Britannica, 1982, Vol. 12, p 704
4. "Music, East Asian", Encyclopedia Britannica, 1982, Vol. 12, p 671
5. Alexander Marshack, The Roots of Civilization, (New York: McGraw-
Hill, 1972), p. 147.
6. J.M. Coles and E. S. Higgs, The Archaeology of Early Man, (New York:
Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), p. 226-227
7. J.V.S. Megaw, "Penny Whistles and Prehistory," Antiquity XXXIV, 1960,
pp 6-13, p. 6-7
8. Ibid., p. 7-8
9. J.M. Coles and E. S. Higgs, The Archaeology of Early Man, (New York:
Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), p. 290
10. E. Passemard, 1944, "La Caverne d'Isturitz en Pays Basque,"
Prehisoire 9:1-84, p. 24.
11. J.M. Coles and E. S. Higgs, The Archaeology of Early Man, (New York:
Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), p. 298
12. Ibid.
13. Goran Burenhult, editor,American Museum of Natural History The First
Humans, (San Francisco: Harper,1993), p. 103 and Richard Leakey and
Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 322
14. Bruce Bower, "When the Human Spirit Soared," Science News, 130, Dec.
13, 1986, p. 378
15. Hugh Ross, Creation and Time, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), p.
16. Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 228
17. Ian Tattersall, The Fossil Trail (New York: Oxford University Press,
1995), p.225
18. David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent, "Independent" Sunday 2/25/96,
p. 15 Manchester England.
19. Paul Mellars, The Neanderthal Legacy, (Princeton: University Press,
1996), p. 373
20. Ibid. p. 404
21. Hugh Ross, "Art and Fabric Shed New Light on Human History," Facts &
Faith, 9:3 (1995)p. 2
22. C.B.M. McBurney, Haua Fteah (Cyrenaica),(Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1967), p. 90
23. Glynn Isaac, in Barbara Isaac, editor, The Archaeology of Human
Origins, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 71
24. Vadim N. Stpanchuk, "Prolom II, A Middle Palaeolithic Cave Site in
the Eastern Crimea with Non-Utilitarian Bone Artefacts," Proceedings of
the Prehistoric Society 59, 1993, pp 17-37, p. 33-34.
25. Ramm, op. cit., p. 228
26. Henry M. Morris, The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth, (Minneapolis:
Dimension, 1972), p. 46-47
27. Ramm, op. cit, p. 220.

Foundation,Fall and Flood