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Archeologists discover ice age dwellers' flute

Last Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2004 | 4:32 PM ET

German archeologists have found what may be the world's oldest musical instrument – a flute carved from a mammoth's bone by European Ice Age dwellers more than 30,000 years ago.

Scientists from Tuebingen University made the discovery near Stuttgart in the Swabian Alps, in the Geissenkloesterle cave, where two other, smaller flutes made from swan bones were discovered more than a decade ago.

The ivory flute, pieced together out of 31 fragments, has three finger holes and is 18.7 cm long.

Using a variety of methods, the instrument has been dated as being at least more than 30,000, possibly about 37,000 years old, making it older than all other known instruments, the researchers said.

It places the instrument's makers in the Upper Paleolithic era of the last ice age, when the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans lived in Europe.

The scientists, who published their findings in the latest edition of Archaeologisches Korrespondenzblatt, said it proved "music played an important role in the lives of our ancestors in the European Ice Age."

The team, led by Prof.Nicholas Conard, also said their find was technically much more sophisticated than the two other pre-historic flutes made from swan bones.

A player would have been capable of playing relatively complex melodies on the ivory instrument.

The three flutes showed that, "culturally, European Ice Age humans... had fully-developed modern behaviour," the scientists said.

The ivory flute is currently on display in an exhibition on ice age music in the Wuerttembergisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart. It can also be seen by visiting the web link given on the right of this page.

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