DIVJE BABE
 
MOUSSTERIAN ARCHAEOLOGY SITE NEAR IDRIJA IN SLOVENIA
 
 
Who Made the Neanderthal Flute?
Story of the Debate
 
One of the notable finds at Divje Babe in 1995 is the putative 50,000 year-old flute, known as the  Neanderthal Flute.  It is a juvenile cave bear femur, broken at both ends, but showing 4 holes in line.
 
Found in 1995 by Ivan Turk in Slovenia, at the Divje Babe site, the juvenile cave bear femur bone, known as the Divje Babe flute, was a major find of recent times.
 
The reason for that was because it provided significant evidence that Neanderthals may have been the equal of Homo Sapiens in the evolution of humankind. It became the oldest known musical instrument, and the first known instance of a diatonic musical scale sequence.
 
But soon after it was found, in 1998, the theory was put forward, most notably by taphonomist Francesco d'Errico et al,   as well as Philip Chase and April Nowell, that the bone, with four holes in a line, was not a flute, but was a natural object fashioned by random bites from ancient carnivores.
 
The debate was on. Others entered the debate, and the archaeological and paleo-anthropological community was split. The views of major participants are set out in this article.
 
Musicologist Bob Fink wrote an essay the year before claiming the bone's holes were "consistent with four notes of the diatonic (do, re, mi) scale," based on the spacing of those four holes. The spacing of the holes on a modern diatonic flute (minor scale) are unique, and not evenly spaced. In essence, Fink said, they are like a simple fingerprint. The Divje Babe bone's holes matched those spacings very closely to a series of note-holes in a minor scale.
   
   
Nowell and Chase in 1998 took issue with Fink's claim the flute matched the tones do, re, mi, fa. Nowell and Chase wrote in Studies In Music Archaeology III (presentations at a 2000 world conference on music archaeology) that the juvenile bear bone was too short to play those four holes in-tune  to any diatonic series of tones and half-tones.
  Fink's essay had a passage which originally acknowledged the length required when he suggested there may have been a mouthpiece extension added to the bone before it was found broken at both ends.
 
In addition, three separate museum curators (Prague National Museum; Treasures of the Earth; Birmingham Zoo), experienced with cave bears bones, were quoted from 1997 (in the 2003 proceedings book, Studies in Music Archaeology III," and quoted in the original Fink essay, cited below), that an unbroken juvenile cave bear femur, in any event, would have been long enough to meet the "in-tune" playing length requirements proposed by Chase & Nowell.
 
The length was confirmed again in July 1997 ( published in the Museum-L archives of July 10, 1997) by Patrick Boylan who checked the usual lengths of yearling cub femurs in the large collections of cave bear bones at the Prague museum. Boylan wrote:
 
"There is not the slightest doubt about the authenticity of the piece. I first followed up Bob Fink's appeal for info. on the likely minimum length of the juvenile Cave bear (Ursus speleaus) - in relation to the possible range of notes - with work on the large collections in Prague in March. Then in April I saw the recently excavated Neanderthal flute itself in the National Museum in Ljubljana, Slovenia - no doubt about either provenance or what it is - or its date: between 40,000 and 45,000 radiocarbon years. The museum has also made an exact copy to play, a recording of which is played in the exhibition. As worked out by Bob Fink, from the mathematics of the piece, it plays what we like to think of as the modern Western musical scale - in a minor key."
 
The Bone's Marks and Appearance
 
All parties agreed that the bone has been chewed, especially at the ends, but the ongoing dispute centers about when  chewing occurred, whether during, after or before the larger holes were made.
 
The issue of bone marrow is also very important in the tapohonomy of the presumed flute, because making flutes from bone usually includes removing the marrow. Turk, et al  (in the monograph Moussterian Bone Flute, p. 160) wrote:  
On the marrow issue: April Nowell was interviewed (in California Wild -- Journal of the California Academy of Sciences, Summer, 1998, Vol 51:3, "Could Neandertals Carry a Tune?"):
An additional examination in 2006 described by Ivan Turk et al, using a technique of "multi-slice computer tomography imaging" has produced results that indicate most or all holes were made before any carnivore damage. The damage was cited to indicate marrow was present, but the tomography results now challenge that conclusion.
 
The issue whether the holes could have been bitten more than one at a time or separately is not in dispute: The tooth spans were checked by all taphonomists concerned to see if any animals could bite two or more such holes at once. If anyone had found a match to any animals, that could've been cited as prima facia  evidence that carnivores made the object. However, all have agreed the holes did not match any animal's tooth span. No two or more holes could've been made by one bite. This was noted by Turk et al,  in his monograph, and noted from the opposing viewpoint by Nowell and Chase in their Current Anthroplogy  article in the Aug-Oct 1998 issue.
 
While the taphonomists disagreed about the bone's scarce markings, the bone has become a noted attraction in its Slovenian museum, publicized on official Slovenian websites and is a source of pride in Slovenia. In the West, paintings were made, models constructed, and musicians, like Biology Professor and flautist Jelle Atema have played them at conventions of flautists and of scientists. New books on related subjects by other scholars have since been published, accepting the bone as the oldest flute known. (Search Amazon.com). Many University webpages of professors and science teachers have maintained webpages about the flute.
 
Although just looking at the flute shows that it looks virtually identical to any other flute from prehistoric times, many taphonomists often distrust or dismiss "looks" or prima facia  evidence.
 
 
Using O's to represent holes in the Divje Babe flute, there is this arrangement of holes (approx):
 
O___O____O__O
 
 As the holes are clearly not equally spaced, one can think they are a random  arrangement, because random or chance measurements are usually unequal and patternless. However, the unequal spacing cannot be assumed automatically  to be random, because (as agreed by all in the debate), the holes are also:
 
1. Lined-up, four in a row, and also:
2. Have similar sized diameters, and:
3. Are nearly all circular (unlike bites which are  usually oval);
4. And like a flute, the holes fit the size of fingertips, and exist on a hollow-bore cylindrical bone.
 
Those four facts indicate features that are not random, that is, suggesting human design and do not square with the 5th fact of unequal spacing, which appears to be caused randomly.
 
Then in 1999 Fink was invited to write a rebuttal to d'Errico, Nowell, et al,  which was published 2003 in Studies in Music Archaeology III  in which he outlined a simple probability analysis on whether it was reasonable to believe the bone was random actsof nature mimicking a flute. The calculation concluded 7 million different random ways exist for four hole arrangements on any similar length and diameter cylinder as the Divje Babe bone to appear without looking like a flute with lined-up holes. Below is a picture of one possible variant of non-flute-like random holes:
  
This result doesn't mean there is room on the surface for 7 million holes. Just moving one hole either a quarter-inch left, right, up and/or down can produce 4 new arrangements. A somewhat simpler example (line-up only) is like a slot machine with 4 wheels, each with 10 symbols of plums, cherries, roses, spades, clubs etc. Spin the wheel and the window shows 4 symbols, but the number of possible different arrangements, without using any new space, would be 10,000. Only 10 results would show a line-up of all 4 of any symbol.
 
Without using any complicated diagrams, or complex mathematics, or relying on knowledge of music and musical terms, a simplified version of the analysis follows. In addition, evidence is summarized from the findings of Ivan Turk et al,  d'Errico et al,  Chase and Nowell, and others.
 
Probability Analysis:
 
Fink's probability analysis, showing the bone matched the spacing of a known world-wide musical scale sequence, also addressed the question: How likely is that sequence able to occur due to natural processes? 
 
The actual calculation: Fink explained that on a cylinder about the size of the Divje Babe bone, four holes can be made in-line. While keeping the four holes still lined-up in a row, if any one or more of the holes' locations is moved left or right by 1/4 inch or more, then the four holes, as a set, can accumulate about 680 spacing patterns that do not signify a musical scale nor anything else known or which seems clearly purposeful. To understand this visually, here are just five cylinders or flutes, showing five variants out of all the ways to make different arrangements, pictured below:
 
 
 
Only a few would match other musical scale formations or be equally spaced, and these were subtracted in the calculation. [The standard permutation formula used in this analysis, based on the Turk-estimated length of the juvenile cave bear bone, was 17!/(14! 3!) = 680.] Further:
 
If one or more holes is moved up or down the same 1/4 inch, each move will cause the four holes to go visually out-of-line, as a set, and no longer seem flute-like. There are about 10 possible such places around the Divje Babe bone diameter. That's 10 ways to be "out of line" just moving one hole. As there are four holes that each could be placed up or down 10 different ways, that gives this probability calculation, as follows, using ordinary multiplication: 10 times 10 times 10 times 10, which equals 10,000 ways for the four holes to not   be like a flute.
 
Each of the 680 horizontal spacings can themselves have 10,000 ways to thus be put vertically out-of-line. Therefore: The calculation concludes by multiplying the 10,000 by 680, giving 6,800,000 or as said above, close to 7 million different ways in which random arrangements of four holes can appear -- on any similar length and diameter cylinder as is the Divje Babe bone -- without looking like a flute with lined-up holes.  
 
Conversely, the study concludes extreme improbability exists. Only a few chances in several million exist that random bites will line-up  in a known and unique scale spacing. Consider additional odds against all four holes having similar-sized diameters; their roundness, and for nature imitating other flute-like features, then there are even fewer chances all that can be caused from four carnivore bites, separately-made. (Nowell et al, 2003; d'Errico, et al, 1998) .
 
Opponents of the view that the bone is a flute have, since 2000, offered no rebuttals to that probability analysis, nor any explanation for the line-up of the holes, nor for why this object has so many features like a flute simply due to chance processes. They retain the view that its being a natural object is "probable."
 
 
A Summary of Further Taphonomic Observations
   Turk et al,  Marcel Otte; D'Errico; Chase and Nowell
 
Turk's 1997 monograph reported the holes have similar diameters; they all fit fingertips; all are circular instead of oval (like most carnivore bites would appear if the holes were made that way). Further, all are in the proper ratio of bore size to hole size found in most flutes; and all are on the kind of bone (femur) usually used for ancient flutes. If calculations could be made of the additional odds for the chance existence of those orderly patterns (instead of seeing something less orderly), the odds that chance biting of holes making a flute look-alike would be even smaller, perhaps only a one-in-trillions possibility.
 
Turk conducted laboratory experiments which pierced holes in fresh bear bones in the manner of carnivore punctures, and in every case, the bones split.   Turk wrote, in his monograph and in his article in MIT's Origins of Music  anthology, the bone shows no "counter-bites" that one would normally expect on the other side of the bone matching the immense pressure necessary for a bite to make the holes. And in the Divje Babe instance, the bone did not break,  a fact not matching expectations of carnivore efforts, as Turk's results showed.
 
Marcel Otte (director of the Museum of Prehistoire, Universite de Liege, Belgium)  pointed out in an April 2000 Current Anthropology  article pointed out there was a possible thumb-hole on the opposite side of the Divje Babe bone, which, making 5 holes, will perfectly fit a human hand.
 
In the analysis by d'Errico et al, (in Antiquity journal, March 1998),  they used cave-bear bone accumulations, where no hominid presence was known, to interpret the Divje Babe I bone. They published photos of several bones with holes in them, which had more or less "circular" holes that were similar to any one of the holes found in the Divje Babe bone. Noting that these holes could therefore be produced by animals, and be similar to Divje Babe holes, they concluded by this comparative method that the holes in the Divje Babe bone could likewise have been made by animals. This was the conclusion before d'Errico ever examined the bone first-hand.
 
In 2000, d'Errico did finally go to Divje Babe, and did tests and analyses on the putative flute and at the Divje Babe site itself.  D'Errico et al,  concluded, in the only comment on the row of holes in Divje Babe (in Journal of World Pre-history Vol 17, #1, March 2003) that "The presence of two or possibly three perforations on the suggested flute cannot therefore be considered as evidence of human manufacture, as this is a common feature in the studied sample."
 
Proponents of the bone being a flute continue to point out that in the d'Errico, et al  1998 Antiquity  article, none of the bones referred to or photographed by d'Errico et al,  had a "common feature" of 3 or more holes being lined-up, especially with virtually circular or equal diameters, as in Divje Babe's disputed bone.  In the further study in 2003, no photos or descriptions from the visit to Slovenia showed any further bones examined having 3 or more lined-up holes either. The Divje Babe femur's line-up of holes, if made by chance, still remains unique  (not  a "common" feature as twice implied in d'Errico's writing below), and remains unaddressed by those favouring the carnivore origin of the object.
 
The latest viewpoint by d'Errico et al,  here given in full, is as follows:
In a Nov., 2006 Oxford Journal of Archaeology article, Iain Morley (holding the carnivore-origin viewpoint) wrote: "Whilst the collections of cave bear bones examined by d'Errico et al (1998), as well as those discussed by Turk et al (2001), do show similar shaped and damaged holes...none of these occur in the diaphysis (thick portion) of a femur" as is found on the reputed flute.
 
Writing also in 2006, Turk subjected the bone to multi-slice tomographic imaging. The results counter the description by d'Errico, Nowell, et al, that the two end-holes were caused by carnivore damage. Turks wrote: "The two partially preserved holes were formerly created before the damage...or before the indisputable intervention of a carnivore...."
 
Turk wrote in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology book, The Origins of Music: "If this probability [of having lined-up holes looking like a flute] were greater (and of course it isn't) it is likely that there would have been more such finds, since...carnivores in cave dens were at least as active on bones, if not moreso, than people in cave dwellings...." pp. 235-268.
 
Resistance in some quarters to this object being declared a flute made by Neanderthals, and thus also for it being the oldest known instrument and the first instance known of a diatonic scale sequence,  remains firm. There are deeply held investments in the views held by different camps in this debate regarding the capacities of Neanderthals (and by musicologists regarding the "Westerness" of the diatonic scale). As M. Otte added: "The destiny of the Mousterian flute discovered at Divje Babe was pre-ordained: it could be only disputable and doubtful, a priori."
 
Philip Chase and April Nowell, although they oppose the idea that the object is a flute, concluded (in Current Anthropology, p.552 Vol. 39, #4, August - October, 1998):
 
"We agree with Turk...that it is logically not possible to exclude either a human or a natural explanation for the specimen from Divje Babe."  They later wrote (in "The Divje Babe specimen and the diatonic scale" in Studies in Music Archaeology III,  p.74):
 
"At this point, it is in fact impossible to disprove either hypothesis" [about whether it was a flute or not]. "Which hypothesis one accepts, then, depends on one's assessment of their relative probability...."
 
In the light of results from the new tomography process, Turk wrote:
 
" ...the origin of the holes on the "flute" are no longer doubtful. We believe it is sufficiently clearly shown that it is really an exceptional discovery, the oldest object which can be considered a flute, and that sooner or later, the community of the paleolithicians will have to accept it. "
 
www.greenwich.ca-- November, 2006        
 
(Under construction): LINKS, BOOKS, ARTICLES, REFERENCE SOURCES
 
http://www.calacademy.org/calwild/1998summer/stories/horizons.html  (Wild Summer journal, Nowell)    
http://www.uvi.si/eng/slovenia/background-information/neanderthal-flute/ (When didchewing occur?)
http://sciencenetlinks.org/sci_update.cfm?DocID=37 (Jelle Atema)
http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1232.htm University webpages
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/CA/journal/issues/v41n2/002701/002701.text.html --(M. Otte)
http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/072/Ant0720065.htm Antiquity -- (D'Errico article)
 
References
Ivan Turk, ed. (1997). Mousterienska Koscena Piscal in druge najdbe iz Divjih Bab I v Sloveniji (Mousterian Bone Flute and other finds from Divje babe I Cave site in Slovenia), Znanstvenoraziskovalni Center Sazu, Ljubljana, Slovenia. ISBN 9616182293.
 
Francesco d'Errico, Graeme Lawson, Christopher Henshilwood, Marian Vanhaeren, Anne-Marie Tillier, Marie Soressi, Frederique Bresson, Bruno Maureille, April Nowell, Joseba Lakarra, Lucinda Backwell, and Michele Julien (March 2003). Archaeological Evidence for the Emergence of Language, Symbolism, and Music -- An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective. Journal of World Pre-history  Vol 17, #1.
 
Morley, I.. Evolutionary Origins & Archaeology of Music., "Mousterian Musicianship? The Case of the Divje Babe I Bone" in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, Nov., 2006.
 
Boylan, Patrick, letter, Museum-L Archives, July 10, 1997. URL= http://home.ease.lsoft.com/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9707B&L=MUSEUM-L&F=&S=&P=47003
 
Turk, I., et al, Results of computer tomography of the oldest suspected flute from Divje babe I (Slovenia, (English & Slovenian), Arheoloski vestnik #56 - (c) 2005 Slovenska academija. (French version): (c) 2006 L'Archaeologia.) (2005 version contains tomography slice photos & analysis).
 
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