Re: Neanderthal Flute

Stephen Jones (
Tue, 14 Apr 98 05:52:17 +0800


On Tue, 07 Apr 1998 15:13:59 -0500, Glenn Morton wrote:

GM>Before anyone else posts on this, I think I will. There is a report in
>Science News April 4, 1998 p. 215 reporting a study April Nowell and Philip
>G. Chase which expresses doubt that the Neanderthal flute reported widely
>in the media last year was a flute.

Thanks for posting this. I will check it out.

GM>I too made note of this flute and got into a discussion with Hugh Ross on
>whether it was a flute, as was believed by the discoverer, or a fire
>starter/hammer, as Hugh claimed(Ross, 1996, p. 11; Ross, 1997, p. 6-7).
>Because I made a public claim about this object, and now there is some
>report saying that the flute is nothing, I feel obliged by intellectual
>honesty to call everyone's attention to the counter-evidence. But then I
>also get to make a few comments about the flute again.

I would be surprised if it turns out that the so-called `flute' was
not intelligently designed (whether by Neandertals or Homo sapiens),
if the holes really were spaced at intervals representing musical
notes. But then again, it there are two other possibilities:

1. some animals chew marks may not be at random. Maybe they form
some sort of pattern that corresponds roughly to harmonic intervals
on a primitive `flute'? Has anyone actually tested this?

2. the `flute' may be the result of selection effect by the
archaeologist. Hundreds of bones may have been ignored but the one
that appears to have a pattern is kept.

GM>The authors say that the bone chewed on and suggest that the holes
>were punched into the bones by canines and then rounded by normal
>erosion and wear. The original discoverer, Ivan Turk, maintains his
>claim that this was a flute.

Turks claim in the original article never was as definite as you made
out. The title was a question: "The oldest musical instrument in
Europe discovered in Slovenia?", and the text was tentative as
befits good science:

"...the possibility that the find could be the oldest musical
instrument found in Europe cannot be ruled out. Of course, it must
be first proved that the holes are manmade, and in this particular
case it would probably be Neanderthal man who was responsible. The
next likely explanation is that the holes were made by some large
carnivore even though traces of teeth on the bone have not yet been
discovered..." (

GM>The major item which supports the new claims include evidence of
>gnawing on the ends of the flute. The logic is that if the bone was
>not fresh, the animals would not have gnawed on it. However, I once
>owned a puny little dog and he used to gnaw on old bones in which
>there was little in the way of nutrients other than calcium. So I
>find the evidence of gnawing less than devastaing, especially if it
>requires that no canid gnaw old bones as my puny little dog used to

Nevertheless, if there are more extensive gnaw-marks it is more
probable than first thought that the intervals are just
coincidentally similar to harmonic intervals on flutes.

GM>The items that makes me think Ivan Turk is correct is that the 2
>complete and 2 partial holes are aligned quite remarkably, all on
>the same side of the bone. While I could see that an animal might
>puncture a bone, to have the punctures aligned with the correct
>musical spacing as is outlined at
>seems remarkable.

See above. It may not be all that "remarkable". First, some
animals might not chew in a random pattern. I have noticed that
dogs seem to chew with their canine teeth in a pattern, moving the
bone along so the position of bite is different each time. Maybe
this conforms to some rough harmonic pattern as is found in other
parts of nature? Did anyone check the pattern on the bone with
chew-mark patterns?

Second, it is such a short piece of bone, it could be just a
coincidence, and represents a selection effect by the archaeologist.
That is, hundreds of bones are ignored because they have no obvious
pattern, but one is selected because it has an apparent pattern.

GM>I would expect many more pseudo flutes to be reported in
>the literature if animals were leaving circular puncture marks on bones and
>that these objects would have holes that never quite aligned. But as it is,
>objects with round and closely aligned holes are quite rare, there being
>around 30 of them in the archeological record and the majority of them are
>also broken as is the one from Slovenia.(Bahn and Vertut, p. 68-69) This
>rarity seems to me to argue against them being produced via carnivore
>activity because with the great number of carnivores over the millennia,
>they should have left a greater horde of punched bones.

There probably *are* "a greater horde of punched bones". But the
archaeological "literature" only reports those bones that look like
they are intelligently designed. The others are just ignored (like
stasis was) as `not data':

"Yet, just as geneticists could only identify variable traits,
paleontologists have worn blinders that permit them to accumulate
cases in one category only: they have sought evidence of slow steady
and gradual change as the only true representation of evolution in
the fossil record (Eldredge and Gould 1972). Two other classes of
information were explained away or simply ignored: 1) morphological
gaps in stratigraphic sequences-which might have suggested a
punctuational view of evolution- were attributed to imperfections of
the fossil record; 2) evolutionary stasis, though recognized by all
and used by stratigraphers in the practical work of our profession,
was ignored by evolutionists as "no data." ... Paleontologists
allowed a potent, historical bias to direct their inquiry along a
single path, though they could have accumulated other data at any
time....This sorry situation led us to postulate our alternative
model of punctuated equilibria (Eldredge 1971; Eldredge and Gould
1972). We wanted to expand the scope of relevant data by arguing
that morphological breaks in the stratigraphic record may be real,
and that stasis is data-that each case of stasis has as much meaning
for evolutionary theory as each example of change." (Gould S.J. &
Eldredge N., "Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution
reconsidered", Paleobiology, 1977, vol. 3, p116)

GM>Secondly, the flute looks exactly like other objects which are
>universally acclaimed as being bone flutes. There is a bone flute
>found at Isturitz in France, (Passemard, 1944, plate VII) This
>particular flute has two holes a broken third hole similar to what
>is found on the Neanderthal flute. Other near identical flutes made
>by modern man and accepted as such can be seen in Megaw, (1960)

Maybe all such claimed flutes need to be re-evaluated. It is easy to
see how archaeologists can find thousands of bones chewed by animals
and only keep those few that have an apparent pattern flute-like

GM>Thirdly, even if this flute does not survive the test of time,
>there is still the much older flute found at Haua Fteah, Lybia

The "flute" at "Haua Fteah" is in *Africa* and was thought to be the
work of *anatomically modern humans*:

"The first modern humans...without doubt the most important
development in Middle Stone Age Africa was the emergence of the first
anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, in the south of the
continent around 100,000 years ago....At both Klasies River Mouth and
Haua Fteah on the Libyan coast extensive accumulations of shell
middens provide some of the earliest evidence in the world for the
use of marine resources such as shellfish." (Scarre C., ed., "Past
Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology", 1995 reprint, p66)

not Neandertals, since the latter have never been found outside of
Europe and Asia:

"The proximity of Africa raises one of the great mysteries of the
Neandertals," Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, told
me. "By this time humans elsewhere in the world were crossing much
greater distances of water. They were already in Australia, for
instance. Yet there's no evidence of the Neandertals-or their modern
contemporaries-having made it across the strait....Beyond them,
Africa looms through the haze, filling me with wanderlust and
questions. Weren't they curious? Maybe that was one of those
inscrutable differences between them and us. We are compelled by
curiosity, the need to explore, and an obsession for change. Perhaps
the thought of moving on never occurred to them. Maybe they simply
accepted the present, without a past or future tense. Who knows?"
(Gore R., "Neandertals", National Geographic, Vol. 189, No. 1,
January 1996, pp31,34-35)

Since this known flute was produced by Homo sapiens, and Homo
sapiens could have been in Slovenia contemporaneously with
Neandertals, it is always possible that this `flute' was made by
Homo sapiens, not Neandertal. Certainly the simplest hypothesis is
that Homo sapiens made both.

GM>which serves the same purpose of moving mankind's spirituality
>further back than the 60,000 years that many apologists want.

At best this would be evidence of the development of *musical
ability*, not necessarily "spirituality", if the latter is defined as
the ability to have a relationship with God:

"In the Genesis creation account, soulish creatures (birds and
mammals endowed by God with mind, will, and emotions so that they
can form relationships with human beings), and spirit creatures
(human beings who in addition to the soulish features of birds and
mammals are also endowed by God with spirit that they can form a
relationship with God Himself) are distinguished from other animals
(invertebrates and lower vertebrates)." (Ross H., "Creation and
Time", 1994, p61)

"Man is distinguished by the presence and use of complex symbolism
or, more specifically, of language. While the making of tools and
burial of the dead point to a fairly sophisticated pattern of
behavior, it is language which makes possible the type of
relationship with God which would be experienced by a being created
in the image of God. On this basis, one can correlate the beginning
of man in the full biblical sense with the evidence of a great
cultural outburst about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago." (Erickson M.J.,
"Christian Theology", 1985, p484-485)

However, from my two-`Adam' viewpoint, I would have no problem with
Genesis 1 "man" being identified with "anatomically modern Homo
sapiens" and evidencing signs of the nearly completed image of God.


GM>To conclude, I still think there is good evidence that this is a
>flute, but as soon as I can see the original report, I will
>obviously re-evaluate my position if necessary. One thing that
>would make me alter my position is if there are tooth-type
>striations within the holes themselves, but the Science News report
>indicates that this is not the case.

I can't see how they could tell the difference between animal tooth
marks and human bore marks using bone or even animal teeth. Besides,
the holes were worn.

GM>The other thing that is leading me to caution is that almost any
>kind of cultural activity not associated with Homo sapiens, receives
>a much more critical examination than that which is clearly in a
>modern human context. Given this penchant, nearly everything which
>would indicate intelligence and spirituality among the archaic
>hominids has some doubters.

One could also say that "nearly everything which would indicate
intelligence and spirituality among the archaic hominids has some"

The point is that we *know* that Homo sapiens is capable of
"spirituality" no matter which way it is defined. We don't *know*
that Neandertal was capable of "spirituality" in the higher sense of
a relationship with God.

GM>And while there should always be doubt, in my opinion the
>abundance of evidence for musical instrumentation among the
>Neanderthals is sufficient to survive even the fall of the flute.
>But then, the other data also lends some credence to the flutes

I would have no problems if it turned out that Neandertals had
some musical ability. But AFAIK, there is *no* evidence of "musical
instrumentation among the Neanderthals", where Homo sapiens could
not have been a factor.

For example, modern Europeans traded their advanced implements like
iron axes to primitive stone-age people like American Indians and
Australian Aborigines. Why may not Homo sapiens have made bone
flutes and traded them with Neandertals? The presence of undisputed
flutes in Africa made by Homo sapiens and the very rarity of such
flutes in Europe, but near to Africa, supports that hypothesis.


Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)