Who Made the Neanderthal Flute?
By Bob Fink
Updated Nov., 2008  
* See also: Reply to Morley's critique of Fink (Oxford Journal Nov/07 -- [OJA]) -- shows original length of bone was sufficient to play diatonic sequence in tune.

See: Two Recent Books: On Music Origins & Music Archaeology
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* A listing of the overall updated evidence + photo of one hole;
* A review of evidence by Ivan Turk et al
based on Ivan Turk's monograph (*)
and an article by Drago Kunej and Ivan Turk in the recent book Origins of Music (**);
* Comments on some of the literature [d'Errico et al] for the bone as a natural object.

Updated Listing of Evidence
for the Divje babe I bone being a flute:
* It looks like a nearly complete flute, and is similar to other known flutes from the about the same period (Upper Pleistocene).
* Four holes are in line (at least three);
* Diameters of the holes are equivalent;
* Spacings between holes match a very unique set of spacings found within a known traditional scale (do-re-mi-fa);
* Holes are found on a cylindrical hollow femur, a bone type commonly used for making flutes in history and prehistory;
* There is a possible thumb-hole -- exactly where a thumb hole would be: Namely, the entire hole structure fits a human hand. (See Otte, Current Anthropology, Volume 41, #2, April, 2000);
* The bone was found in the vicinity of Mousterian fireplace;
* Hole diameters are in a circular shape, a good fit to finger tips;
* There are striations or furrowed depressions reported going horizontally around the rim of the hole, rather than vertically from the top to the inside as in marks made by teeth. (1)
* Responds to blowing -- able to produce musical sounds, even including traditional scale notes.
* The middle two holes are found on thickest part of femur, an unusual location for carnivore chewing, especially two such holes on the same bone;
* Most of the many bones in the same cave were without holes; few were chewed [only about 4.5% of the juvenile bones were chewed or had holes, according to Turk], and most were chewed at the ends where the bone is thinner. This bone was unique in the attention given to it if carnivores were responsible. (2)
* Wolves, bears, and hyenas are unlikely suggested candidates for producing the central holes because:
       a) Hyena & wolf teeth do not have big enough size diameters nor would their oval shape or taper match the nearly circular holes found in the assumed flute. 3)
       b) The tooth spans of the suggested carnivores do not match any two or more holes in the hole pattern found on the bone, which precludes more than one hole being punctured at once by any animal. The 4-hole line-up had to be 4 separate events. (4)
       c) Circular holes might be made by canines but these are not usual for chewing and do not have bite-strength enough to pierce the thickest part of the bone; (5)
       d) There is an unexpected absence of marks demonstrating a counterbite took place if a carnivore punctured the bone; (6)
       e) The bone was remarkably not shattered despite the presumed heavy chewing and despite several holes presumed punctured by powerful carnivore teeth. This is also very rare. See note (7)
* Turk & Kunej point out that if the presumed thumb-hole represents only an anterior counter-bite of the posterior hole made at one end, why was the posterior hole bitten at the other end -- with what would have been enough force to penetrate -- not likewise endowed with a second counterbite on the anterior side of the bone? Both these holes Turk & Kunej believe were made at the same time.
* Further, they point out that animals placing their teeth, for holes to result being in line, is difficult. That is, the slight flatness of one side of the bone may seem likelier to sustain holes there, and thus be more in line, but holding the bone to puncture them in line with separate bites is actually harder for a carnivore to do. (8)
* Finally, the odds of all the above happening by natural or random or even semi-random processes are very tiny. An analogous or hypothetical probability study done to find out how many ways such a bone shape (like a casino wheel) can get a 4-item lineup provides an order or magnitude of these odds. While the study is based on how many ways to arrange a set of 4 holes somewhere on such a bone's surface (and also matching a known scale's hole spacings), note that natural processes are not necessarily the same as hypothetical random processes. But in the absence of knowing the natural processes (if any) that are able to produce a non-chance lineup, the hypothetical estimated calculations of odds come to 1 in 7 million (or more, up to 16 million) chance to occur. This seems to be the only such bone with a 4-hole line-up claimed to be naturally produced, as all others have been (so far) classified as flutes. If some natural processes capable of producing a line-up are not entirely random, then these odds would not be so small, but would surely remain within an order of magnitude of 1 chance in millions or in many thousands. (9)
Next page: Reply to Iain Morley's critique of Fink (Oxford Jrn'l of Archaeol. (Nov/2007)) & Comments & other views
Lacking clear taphonomic evidence,
how else could we tell artifact from accident?
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     Looking for a flute and don't feel like drilling through a bone and making your own?  Try, a website that specializes in selling musical instruments.  They have in stock everything ranging from acoustic guitars to midi keyboards.  Besides their vast array of musical instruments they also have a wide selection of amps and mixers.  So next time you're looking for a music instrument, try!

* Turk Ivan, Ed., Mousterian Bone Flute, (Znanstvenoraziskovalni Center Sazu, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1997).
** The Origins of Music, Ed: Wallin, Merker, & Brown... (MIT Press, Cambridge / London, UK, 2ooo).
(1) "A stone tool also more or less furrows the edge of a hole (illus. below). Traces of such furrows (depressions) are present on the edges of both complete holes, and are difficult to explain if we opt for the hypothesis that the holes were made by a carnivore with teeth and subsequently enlarged by weathering (see Chase and Nowell 1998)."... "In chipping holes, specific damage, including breakage, occurred on the ventral side of pointed or tongued tools [ed.: tools used by Turk et al to make experimental holes in fresh bear bone], similar to damage to numerous similar tools from the site...." Further, Turk and Kunej wrote: "Tools suitable for chipping holes have a number of irregular sharp edges on the sides, whereas the teeth of carnivores do not. Because of this, the outline of holes that have been chipped with stone tools are not completely circular and have at least one or more corners. " -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
One of the holes (left) in the presumed flute from Divje babe I site, and experimentally chipped & punctured holes produced with a stone tool (right)
(from Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
Notes in white letters added by Bob Fink, who thinks he can see the striations/furrows even though he's not a trained taphonomic archaeologist. Quality of original photo much clearer than reproduction here.)
(2) "Since carnivores always chew a bone from the end, most such holes are created in the region of the epiphyses and metaphyses (Brodar 1985: table 3; Turk and Dirjec 1997) where elastic and viscoelastic trabecular bone is covered with thin cortical shell...." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
(3) "The holes in the flute are too big for a wolf and their shape matches the shape of wolf's carnassial not at all and the precarnassials of hyenas only slightly. Precarnassial and carnassial teeth do not produce circular holes but oval and rhomboid ones." ... "Holes in the flute could only match the shape of canines of hyenas and large carnivores such as bears (brown and cave bear) and lions. Except for hyenas, these animals are not interested in bones, although they are present in cave fauna and must be considered." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
(4) Turk's monograph reports (pp. 171-5) that the center-to-center distances of the holes in the artifact are smaller than that of the tooth span of most carnivores. The smallest tooth spans they found were 45mm, and the holes on the bone are 35mm. -- Turk, Mousterian.... op. cit.
(5) "Almost-circular holes are characteristic only of canines, where the bite force is half or less that of precarnassials and carnassial and the teeth behind them. ...A force of 1300 to 1900 Newtons is necessary to pierce thick cortical bone (3 to 4mm) with a pointed tooth in the middle part of the diaphysis of juvenile specimens. It is questionable whether most medium sized carnivores (e.g., wolves, perhaps hyenas) are capable of doing this with their canines..." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit. This would leave for the wolf and hyena only their pointed teeth -- which would have left an expected taper in the hole. -- 'If it doesn't fit, you must aquit.'
(6) "...the origin of completely pierced holes without opposite bite marks, similar to ours, is uncertain. ...No such damage or any macroscopic trace is seen of the point of the opposing tooth or of other opposing teeth in suitable places beside the complete and half-holes on the other end of bone. Opposing and neighboring teeth should have made an impression with such a powerful bite force as is required for the tooth to pierce the thick, compact bone of the diaphysis." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
(7) "...compact bone regularly splits longitudinally when a tooth penetrates this deep, as was the case with the holes in the suspected flute. [Strength was measured at the Laboratory of Non-linear Mechanics...using steel points , bronze casts of wolf and hyena dentition, and fresh thigh bones of brown bear. In widening the experimental holes to the size of those on the suspected flute, exerting the same force as for piercing, all juvenile bones cracked. We thank Profs. J Grum and F. Kosel for their help.]" The ultimate goal of every bone-eating carnivore is to split a bone into two pieces to get at the marrow. The question is why this goal was not achieved after so many attempts, when most of the necessary energy had been invested in piercing the cortical shell and widening the holes." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
(8) "...canine teeth ...have the effect of splitting the force produced by the lower jaw into two components, axial and transverse (we owe this explanation to Dr. Pavel Cevc, Institute "Joief Stefan," Ljubljana). The transverse component precludes the upper canine from penetrating the arched anterior surface of the bone. In this case it would be very difficult for a carnivore that pierced the bone several times with abnormal chewing behavior to place the same tooth (i.e., lower canine) each time exactly in line with a previous hole. All holes and notches on the posterior side are disposed in a straight line." -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit. (Emph. added)
(9) "The probability that an undetermined carnivore [or carnivores] pierced a bone several times and gave it the coincidental form of a flute without fragmenting it into pieces is very small. If this probability were greater, it is likely that there would have been more such finds, since there were at least as many beasts of prey in the middle Paleolithic as people. In addition, such carnivores in cave dens were at least as active on bones, if not more so, than people in cave dwellings...." Without attempting a measure, Turk and Kunej's general judgement results: " is highly probable that the pierced bone from Divje babe I site is the product of human hands from the invention phase of some technological and cultural process; this is a great deal more probable than that it was heavily chewed." [Emph. added.] Further, they wrote: "We are familiar with examples in which indisputable bone artifacts, such as Upper Paleolithic bone points, were greatly chewed by beasts after people ceased to use them (Turk and Stele 1997: figure 57; Lopez Bayon et al.1997: photo 1)" -- Turk & Kunej, in Origins... op. cit.
Next page: Reply to Morley's critique of Fink in Oxford Jrnl of Archaeol (Nov/2007) & Comments & other views

* Origin of Music
* Harmony in Ancient Music
* Natural Basis to Scale
* 4o,ooo Year-Old Neanderthal Flute Matches Notes in Do, Re, Mi Scale --by Bob Fink
* Oldest Song in the World
* The Nature of Ethnomusicology
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Updated Mar 2003-- Two New Books on Music Origins & Music Archaeology
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