How old is music? Ethnomusicology discoveries

35 000 years old flutes - Meludia

Ethnomusicology and paleomusicology

When was music created and for how long have humans been playing it? These are study subjects of ethnomusicology and paleomusicology (yep, these words exist!!).

Evidences of musical practice are lacking. The recordings only date back to the second half of the 19th century. The oldest music notation would date from the 5th century before this era and would have come from India. Some traces of music writing in Greece appeared in the 3rd century B.C. However, the music probably existed long before that.

The oldest music instrument ever found

Debate continues on the 43,000 years old pierced bone discovered in Slovenia in 1995 by Ivan Turk on a Neanderthal site to determine if it is indeed a flute. Whatever the answer, it is today established that music is more than 35 000 years old, since flutes dating from this period have been discovered. 35,000 years, that put us in the upper paleolithic, homo sapiens had just arrived in Europe. This flutes, found in France (Isturits’ cave in the Atlantic Pyrenees) and in Germany (Hole Fels’ cave) are mostly made of bird bones, so naturally hollow, in whom several holes were added at chosen intervals. A batch of flutes, dating back to 9,000 years (notice to vintage instruments collector), has been discovered in China in the province of Henan. The biggest difference is that, being much more recent, one of this flute is in good enough condition to be played!!

The discovery of 35,000 years old flutes allow researchers to place music back further. Firstly because other instruments, made with weaker material, may not have been able to travel through the ages. Secondly, because before the creation of instruments, it is very likely that voice and song have evolved over many years, without leaving a trace.