Magazine article Science News

Neandertal Noisemaker

Magazine article Science News

Neandertal Noisemaker

Article excerpt

Neandertals, whose evolutionary relationship to modern humans inspires much scientific sound and fury, apparently made some noise of their own -- perhaps even music. Amid stone implements typical of European Neandertals excavated last year in a Slovenian cave, researchers found a piece of a juvenile bear's thighbone that contains four artificial holes and resembles a flute.

Similar bone flutes have been recovered at several Homo sapiens sites in Europe and Asia dating from 22,000 to 35,000 years ago. A preliminary age estimate for the new find, however, places it at between 43,000 and 82,000 years old.

"This bone could have been used to make noise or, possibly, music," contends geologist Bonnie Blackwell of the City University of New York's Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. "It would not surprise me if this was a Neandertal musical instrument."

Blackwell and her colleagues, including excavation director Ivan Turk of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences in Ljubljana, are slated to publish an analysis of the flutelike bone and other discoveries at the Divje Babe I cave in an upcoming Geoarchaeology.

The ends of the hollow bone artifact are broken off, and the holes, which penetrate only one side of the shaft, run in a straight line. Neandertals probably produced the holes, possibly by using a carnivore tooth as a punch, according to Blackwell. Cave bears or other carnivores could have gnawed off the ends of the bones, she holds.

Five cave bear teeth from three sediment layers at the site were dated by a technique known as electron spin resonance. …

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