Re: Whistling from Neanderthals to modern man

Gordon Simons (
Sat, 1 Aug 1998 19:27:33 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Glenn,

This is an interesting post, and I thank you for bringing it to our
attention, but I do have a small quibble with:

Consider what Omerzel-Terlep says: "Both archeologists and
archeo-ethno-musicologists also agree that whistles made from phalanges
of ungulates (reindeer, red deer and ibex) and other animals, such as
cave bear, are the oldest sound-producing devices in Europe, and these
instruments can be traced from the Palaeolithic Age right up to the
present day. R. Meylan even goes on to claim that vessel pipes of the
whistle type are also the oldest pipes which can be found in Southern
America, China, and Asia as well as Europe."

This does not pass what I might call the "ring-of-plausibility test."
Surely, before the Neanderthal were making whistles (assuming this is
right), they made some simple percussion instruments that are much harder
to preserve and/or discover over many thousands of years than are objects
made of bone. For instance, is it not quite plausible that they banged
pieces of wood together, as is common in some Spanish cultures today?

Beyond this, one could probably quibble with Omerzel-Terlep's choice of
words: "oldest sound-producing devices," which does not limit the scope of
discussion to just musical instruments.

The only reason I raise such issues is that these considerations cause me
to wonder about the care that goes into his scholarship.