An almost complete flute made out of the bones of griffon vulture was found in 2008 at Hohle Fels, in a cave in Southern Germany. It has five finger holes, a V-shaped mouthpiece and is 0.3 inches (8 millimetres) wide and was 13 inches (34 centimetres) long when it was whole.
Archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in Germany stated the earliest finds of this kind previously dated from around 35,000 years ago at the near by site Geissenklosterle, but at 40,000 years old, this one dates back to the earliest period of settlement in the region by modern man and is probably the oldest musical instrument ever found.
Fragments of mammoth ivory flutes were also found at the site and according to the team these would have been particularly difficult to make. After splitting a section of curved ivory with only stone tools, the two halves would have been hollowed out, carved and joined together with an airtight seal.
Conard and his team argue that music would have given the early settlers an advantage over rival humans, the Neanderthal, as it would have improved communication between modern humans and helped form tighter social bonds. Conard stated;
“Think how important music is for us. Whether it’s at church, a party, or just for fun, you can see how powerful music can be. People often hear a song and cry, or feel great joy or sorrow. All of those kinds of emotions help bond people together.”
Another possibility is that the flutes were made by Neanderthals, but although not completely ruled out, it is unlikely as the flutes were found alongside other artefacts, including a figure of a woman with an exaggerated figure, the likes of which have only ever been found at sites with modern human settlement.
Recently, a replica of the flute was sent to a professional musician and made what Conard described as “low-pitched sounds across a wide range of tones”.