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4 February 2015

At www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105823127 … we have the discovery in a cave in SW Germany of four flutes, one of which is made from the bones of a vulture. The others are fashioned from ivory tusks. They date from 35,000 years ago and were made by people of the Aurignacian culture.

The vulture bone flute is a foot long – so no mean affair. Music, it seems, has been with us for a long time, and music also suggests dance has been with us equally as long.

The fact that it must have taken such a long time to make these particular flutes, when a spot of wood whittling could have produced something similar, but not as resonant, in a much shorter time, suggests the finished product was deemed desirable – and the artisan had time enough at hand. Nowadays, a good European flute is likely to be made of boxwood, a very dense and hard to work kind of wood. Fashioning a flute from an ivory tusk was more difficult, we may imagine as it involved first producing a tube by whittling away at the tusk, and then splitting the tube in half, and hollowing it out – and smoothing the inside (and outside). Cut to the desired length the necessary finger holes were then made. Small notches were part of the final product, in order to get the two halves to fit flush, and after that the two halves were sealed together (by a natural plant glue). The skill displayed in the flutes must derive from a long tradition in working wood and bone (and was later transferred to ivory). One of those strange Venus figurines was also found nearby as well as various other interesting artefacts such as little pieces of painted limestone.

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