Re: Whistling from Neanderthals to modern man

Glenn R. Morton (
Sat, 01 Aug 1998 20:36:51 -0500

At 07:27 PM 8/1/98 -0400, Gordon Simons wrote:
>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.

I would, of course, have to agree with your logic here. I really think it
is a semantic issue. What is often left out of such statements above is
the word 'known'. One can only ever say that they are aware of the earliest
known/preserved/discovered object of any variety. And since most of the
musical objects can also be made of wood which is highly perishable and
unlikely to be preserved. And this is a very important point that
Christians often overlook when discussing the place of fossil man. Even
though the earliest KNOWN whistle dates between 90 and 100 kyr, it is very
UNLIKELY that those were the very first whistles ever made on earth. So,
when we talk about things being the 'first', it is only the very earliest
known object. Unfortunately, I also fall into that semantic trap.

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