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Date: Sun, 16 Mar 1997 12:41:15 EDT
From: Bonnie Blackwell, -- Dept. of Geology, Queens College
To: David Halperin --Dept of Musicology, Tel Aviv University
To answer some of your questions:
1. Neanderthal finger bones are approximately the same size as human fingers. The bones are marginally more curved than our own, but nothing that would preclude any of the necessary finger movements needed to play a flute.
2. Neanderthals have a fully developed opposable thumb that is capable of producing a power grip equal to our own, and a precision grip that is 98% of ours if not more. Evidence of their proficiency in opposable grips comes from the adeptness of their tool production.
You seem to be making the same assumptions that many people make about Neanderthals -- namely that they are subhuman brutes not capable of anything "human". In fact, they did some remarkable things, including successful brain surgery using flint tools which the patients survived! That alone to me says that they were capable of great dexterity.
3. The flute is more likely a flute, because we see several other flutes in Upper Paleolithic sites that very closely resemble this one. That is not to say that it might not have been a pendant, but its ability to make sounds does suggest that it would have been used as a flute, rather than an ornament.
4. The flute is made on a juvenile (probably yearling) cave bear femur. The cave was full of such bones. Using the tools found in that site along with a hammer stone, Ivan Turk and his colleagues in the Slovenian Academy of Science have reproduced the holes in the flute. It is very simple to make the holes and they look exactly like the ones on the flute.
If you think about the scenarios in which music might have been developed, especially flutes, it is not so amazing that they might develop it. Imagine that you have chewed a bone and produced several round holes in by punching your canine or premolar teeth through the bone. Now imagine that you are 10 and your brother has been bugging you all day. To get back at him you want to blow the marrow in the bone in his face. To do so you blow through the bone, rather than sucking as you usually do. Well, when you do, you make a fancy noise. It gets the attention of the entire cave! Including the medicine man. Rather than being mad, he takes your bone and experiments, to find that he can make fancy sounds too. He realizes the benefits of this tool in hunting to keep the prey from hearing the human voices that will scare them. So he makes holes in a great many bones, until he has some that will make sounds like the birds. After all birds don't scare the game away, just the opposite in fact. If the birds are singing the prey know humans are not near. So now the tribe uses the flute to hunt in order to make signals between hunters in different parts of the field. Or even to lure game closer. Now after a successful hunt, the people back at the cave would want to know how it went. Of course you would use the flute to tell the hunting story. It is not a great leap from that to using the flute for many different purposes, including hunting ceremonies to bring the game, and social gatherings where they want music.
Date: Sun, 16 Mar 1997 20:32:51
From: David Halperin
To: Bonnie Blackwell,
Thanks for the information on Neanderthal men. (By the way, if I gave the impression that I thought of them as subhuman, it was not intentional and certainly not a reflection of my (meagre, I admit) knowledge.
Your scenario for the origin of instrumental music is attractive, albeit speculative. I would prefer to think of it as originating a little more purposefully, though; the various theories on the origins of spoken language seem to me to be more relevant here.
--David Halperin
Date: Sun, 16 Mar 1997 16:57:46
From: Bob Fink
To: Bonnie Blackwell>
Another possibility:? Could Neanderthals have simply heard the wind howling through hollow reeds (bamboo? or whatever grows there where the bone was found), and then figured it out after that, using a bone? For all we know, they could have been making flutes for 5,000 years before the one Ivan Turk found. --Bob
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 08:11:38
From: Bonnie Blackwell,
To: Bob Fink
I would say that they had been using flutes for much longer than we would have expected otherwise. But as very precious objects, there may not have been many of them. The likelihood of any bone being preserved is about 1/1,000,000 to 1/1,000,000,000 give or take an order of magnitude. So there might need to be a lot of them before we would find them. -- Bonnie
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 08:01:03
From: Bonnie Blackwell,
To: David Halperin
To answer a few more of your questions:
1. If the bone had had things stuck into the holes, one of two situations would have pertained: Either there would have been mastic (general archaeological term for glue and other things used to adhere materials to one another), or there would have been evidence for microscopic wear on the edge of the bone where the other thing was jammed into the hole hard enough for it to stick there for a long time.
There is no evidence for any mastic whatsoever. The bone contains nothing to suggest that anything has ever been stuck to it. Mastic survives all sorts of diagenetic alterations very effectively. If it had been, it would still be present, at least in very minute quantities, on the bone's surfaces.
2. The microwear around the hole is consistent only with the type of contact with flint tools that would produce the hole in the fashion that Ivan Turk and his Slovenian colleagues used to reproduce the holes in the fresh bear bone. There are no wear marks to indicate anything having been jammed into the holes.
3. Nor is there any wear to suggest that the bone was suspended on a thong for any time. Within a few days of wearing a bone on a thong, it becomes polished by the thong. No such polish exists. -- B.
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 1997 05:44:01
From: David Halperin
To: "Bonnie Blackwell
Many thanks for the information! As you have guessed, I am not an archeologist (although like everyone in Israel I'm interested). My questions on this point were those of a professional skeptic. Has the find been published in any journal accessible to a layman?
--David Halperin
From John Moore, to Greenwich, March 31, 1997
Florestan Books & Publishing Suite 640, 185 - 911 Yates Street Victoria, B.C. Canada V8V 4Y9 Http:// Phone:(250)727-9141 Fax:(250)727-7689
I can't say that I know very much about the mathmatics of musical pitch, but I do know my Neanderthals. After drilling the holes to get the marrow out of the bone, they then played a spritely jig? I don't think so, they probably just threw it away.
--John Moore
To John Moore from Bob Fink, March 31, 1997
How do we know it's a remnant of a flute? The evidence given by the archaeologists:
* The holes are in line.
* They are approximately the same size.
* The remnant resembles other upper paleolithic flutes (which had mouthpiece slits making them clearly musical instruments).
Cracking the bone open would seem easier for getting the marrow than drilling holes smaller than a finger diameter. How, after drilling such small holes, did they remove the marrow?
The holes are not equally spaced. It's the height of irony or coincidence, don't you think, that a Neanderthal would, without even knowing it and by sheer accident, make a set of holes in a bone that (if they thought of using it as flute -- which they wouldn't because it's marrow they're after) would play the musical notes: Do, Re, Mi, Fa?
The irony of this grows even greater when you realize they had only 1 chance in hundreds (see the probability estimates in the Appendix of the essay) to space their holes in a manner that could play such notes. Now, to make a flute entirely by accident, and one that -- if they ever thought of trying to play it-- would play the notes do, re, mi and fa, also entirely by accident, what do you think are the odds for that??? Guess how many unlikely assumptions you'd have to make to sustain that prognosis?
--Bob Fink
.P.S. Even if this dubious and inefficient method of making holes to suck out marrow on this bone was used by the Neanderthal group at this campsite, note that the campsite was full of such bones. Yet none of the other bones showed this method of removing marrow.
John Moore to Bob Fink April 2, 1997
OK Bob.
Thank you for all of the addenda to your argument, I am now fairly well satisfied that you are correct.
However, I am still concerned that North American Neolithic sites that I have studied such as Calico, CA show no evidence of woodwind development. Perhaps Europeans have always been smarter!
--John Moore
From Bob Ranger, To Bob Fink, March 28 1997
Bob Fink -
Regarding your web site at:
Off hand I would say there is not enough evidence that the bone is a flute at all.
But, let's suppose that it is a flute.
Then it has only two holes. The placement of other holes is only more conjecture. With only two holes, you don't have enough information as to how the scale was played.
Also, overblowing doesn't necessarily produce an octave. You would need an exact replica of the "flute" on which to try it. Nevertheless, your site provides an interesting and provocative read. Perhaps more evidence will crop up due to the interest you have generated. Keep up the good work!
--Bob Ranger
Bob Fink to Bob Ranger, March 28 1997
Dear Bob
If you read further into the material, you'll find another picture of the flute with measurement of all 4 holes.
The partial holes are verified as holes (not considered conjecture by the archaeologists) by the markings of the two complete holes' inner diameters. There is a similarity of markings inside the diameteres of the 2 complete holes to the 2 partial holes indicating that all 4 were made the same way, rather than "accidents" of breakage.
With 4 holes, as the essay shows, a lot can be concluded. At the end of the essay, there is a link to discussion of the essay, to which you are welcome to join. It will also go into the matter of "is it a flute at all?" in great depth, as well as what can legitimately be concluded. I hope you can take time to read the entire material.
--Bob Fink
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997 From: "R.M.F. at Greenwich Music, Arts & Sciences"
To: Bonnie Blackwell
Hi Bonnie: How do you demonstrate the partial holes are indeed holes? Are there markings on the interior of the diameters to link all four holes??
Date: Wed, 02 Apr 1997 To: "Greenwich Music, Arts & Sciences"
From: "Bonnie Blackwell
This message has been in limbo for a while. The holes were determined by Ivan Turk. I can't say for sure, but my take on it is that the way the edge of the breaks are formed tells you that there is a hole on each end. The holes would have different edge structure than the broken bone. --b.
Bob Fink to Prof. Bonnie Blackwell, April 2, 1997
As to the holes -- 2 or 4?
I noted you already wrote to David Halperin that "the microwear around the hole is consistent only with the type of contact with flint tools that would produce the hole in the fashion that Ivan Turk and his slovenian colleagues used to reproduce the holes in the fresh bear bone."
To that could we add these two points?
1. The partial/broken holes look like holes; they are in line, and there are 2 of them. If there was only one, it could be an "odd break" but to find two in line AND semi-circular requires odds that are very extreme.
2. Even if there was only one such partial hole, then your point works here -- that things don't "break" in a semi-circular manner ordinarily (unless chewed by some creature). Hard to accept that two such semi-circular breaks could occur naturally and be in line. --Bob
Date: Thu, 3 April 1997
From: Bonnie Blackwell,
To: cc.: Greenwich
The lack of flutes and other instruments in North America should really not surprise you. Interestingly all the musical instruments involving flute-like objects are european or middle eastern. North American peoples derived from northeastern asiatic populations. It is possible that there was not sufficient interaction between N.E. asiatic peoples and the european/mideast traditions to enable that idea to be transmitted.
Alternatively, it is possible that the technology for making these instruments was lost by new world populations after their arrival in North America.
Recall that preservation of wood and bone is not that great in open air sites from which most of our knowledge of North American paleoindian, archaic, and even woodland cultures comes. Since flutes and similar woodwinds must be made of wood or bone (assuming metals are not available), then these might not be well preserved in sites at all. Very few sites from North America preserve wood well before about 1-2 ka, and almost none preserve bone that well before 2-3 ka. High acid contents in the soils from most areas destroy bone and wood. --b.
Date: April 9, 1997
Mark Shepard,
to Bob Fink,
Dear Bob,
I've looked over your essay on the Neanderthal flute. While I don't pretend to have followed it perfectly, I have several comments.
1. I don't believe I've ever seen a minor-key flute. The reason is simple: the pattern of finger holes would be awkward. Also, as you point out, a minor key can be played on a major-key flute. So I would assume that any flute would be in the major key.
2. You are incorrect in saying "One would only drill a separate keynote hole into the marrow if no other exit from the internal hollow of the bone existed." Often in bamboo flutes -- and I imagine in bone flutes as well -- the thickest portion of the wall would be at the ends of the piece, and these ends would be preserved to help prevent cracking, and for esthetics as well. In that case, one or more additional holes would be added at the end to tune the low note. I've done this myself -- making extra-long bamboo flutes, then adding "end holes" to bring up the pitch.
3. I'm not sure what you mean when you say that fingerhole diameter doesn't affect pitch. Perhaps you mean it doesn't affect the overall pitch of the flute, which would be true. However, it's crucial for individual notes. You can confirm this by covering half the hole of a bamboo flute. The pitch can drop by half a tone, and in fact, flats are often played in this fashion. However, it is not the hole diameter per se that affects this, but the diameter in comparison with the tube's inside diameter at that point. (I discuss this in my booklet Flutecraft.)
4. Your cylindrical flute cannot accurately model the acoustics of the bone. The acoustics of a conical flute are different from the acoustics of a cylindrical flute. And it looks like you have an extremely conical flute. I believe conical flutes are shorter for the same pitch. To check this, compare with some Baroque flutes or some shakuhachis.
5. The fingerhole spacing does in fact seem to match the bottom three holes of a major scale flute (with an additional endhole). -- Mark Shepard
April 9, 1997 Bob Fink to Mark Shepard
Dear Mark:
When I wrote the essay, the main aim was first to see if there was any kind of reasonably close match that could be considered in tune to an average (not a fussy) ear. Once we found there were two matches, we were elated. Then I went on the net and into books and research to try to deal with all the items you now raise. I consulted you and other flute makers at the time, as well as physics departments and acoustics experts.
I was looking for two things: At best a formula or exact numerical expression for things like wall thickness, hole diameter, diameter ratios, and the like, regarding their effect on pitch. We had a pretty good match, but now my question was: "Is there anything that could undermine the pitch implications of the match -- even make it NOT a match?" And if formulas couldn't be found, then we sought expert opinions about the "approximate" degree of effects of these things on pitch.
Unfortunately, we got no formulas, and sometimes contradictory opinions.
So, now to answer your points:
Your point #1:
I, too, have never seen a minor key flute. But I know that both minor and major are popular -- the minor more popular and prevalent in the music of East European areas and North Africa areas than it is in the West. After some discussion with my cohort Mike Finley, raising with him my dissatisfaction that our best match was to a type of minor-scale instrument with no parallel in the later homo sapiens tradition, he said "so what?"
The truth, if the minor scale is truly what they had, is not required to conform itself to our biases, or to what constitutes the esthetics of what feels "satisfactory" to us, or what is "normal" in western history. The alternative, if we deny the best match is the probable match, is to be forced to invoke the match as a pretty amazing "coincidence" -- and that's a greater improbability than believing that they went for the minor scale more than the major, since both are already popular in history.
Mike added: "You're a reporter, and you have to take the stance, not of what you'd prefer to find, but just to report what you did discover, and what you found was they may have made a minor scale flute!"
In addition, considering it was possibly 8o,ooo years old, in essence, that might as well be another planet! As an analogy for minor and major, on that planet they're "left-handed," and here in the present planet, we're right handed. What's so hard to believe about that?
It's true that we can play both minor and major on the major flute, by partially covering the holes in the major flute, and not vice versa. So why bother to make a minor flute when a major serves both purposes? But that's a logic that may not suitable to assume for the Neanderthals: Maybe they greatly disliked the major scale compared to the minor? Your feeling you would "assume" it would be major is like my initial assumption or preference, but it may not be a justified assumption when a highly improbable coincidence regarding the match is the alternative.
That brings us to the hole size issue, your point #3.
On this I meant to limit my remarks to the problem at hand. The holes are all about the same size on the bone. The barrel diameter is commensurate with a standard flute. When I experimented with the irish tin flute, I noted that I had to cover nearly 80% of a hole in order to flatten the note (down a half-tone). If I covered only 2/3rds, I flattened it only about a quartertone. I had to play the hole open and then 2/3rds covered in quick succession to make the change in tone be noticeable to me. Hearing the note alone, if I covered it 2/3rds or less, the out-of-tune-ness was just not that noticeable -- and I assume the Neanderthal ear was no more keen than mine on average.
In summary: I dismissed hole size as irrelevant to pitch in this specific case because the Neanderthal wouldn't notice that much difference -- because no bone holes were significantly different enough in size from a standard flute or from each other to go badly out of tune in terms of an average ear.
On your point #2: open and closed ends:
I meant to limit my remarks here to the bone at hand. I imagined that breaking off the heavy knobby joint end would be easier and desireable, producing an open-ended flute (and note "Do"). But not necessarily, as you say. However, the reasons you give for a hole on the barrel doesn't fit the Neanderthal (insofar as we know much about them). They likely had or made occasional tools -- They traveled more, and needed to keep baggage light. Preservation wouldn't be a social value, unless the tool was considered really necessary and light and also hard to make. So in that context my statement would be true that drilling a side "do" or keynote hole would be more work than breaking off the end (unless the bone was too short to spare that much material being cut-off).
I didn't mean to imply that in broader or more modern circumstances that side holes would be equally unlikely. (Of course, people do not always do the efficient or likely thing, as we all know).
[NOTE (added afterward): As to the knobby end: I have to also consider that the bone was broken off first, so that marrow could be scraped out and eaten. I suspect the food value took precedence over the potential-flute value of the bone. After marrow is removed, then the bone becomes a candidate (if it survived the meal without cracking) for an (already open) open-end flute. It's messy to make a flute with the marrow still in it, and it's hard to remove the marrow withour opening or cutting (or scoring-off) the ends. That's why I prefer to think they'd make an open ender.]
Your point #4 about conical shapes:
Bone segments are deceptive. Rotate them 45 or 90 degrees, and the "conical" impression often disappears. This was checked out with several other bones here which seem to have spiral-ish depressions which allow room for muscles and tendons to be wrapped around the bone. The depression that gives the appearance of conical from one point of view doesn't always exist all the way around the entire diameter. The femur typically tends to be "generally" cylindrical overall. On that basis we didn't go into the effects of conical shapes on pitch much. (Nor would a Neanderthal know anything about it, anyway.)
So -- do you think we made reasonable assumptions and conclusions in all these matters? And can we add this correspondence to the appendix? --Bob Fink
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 1997
To: Bob Fink
Hi Bob.
Yes, you're welcome to put this correspondence on your Web page. If any readers want to read more about the basis of my statements, they can visit my Flute Page at and click on "About Mark and His Books."
1. About the possibility of a minor key flute: My point wasn't that such a flute couldn't be desirable to a Neanderthal, but simply that the fingerhole arrangement would be clumsy. It doesn't fit the hand. (And by the way, you don't need to half-hole to get a minor scale on a major flute, you just start the scale on a different note. For instance, A minor on a C major flute.) But I'm willing to concede they may have endured the clumsiness if it was important enough to them.
2. Closed ends: I'm hampered by not knowing what a femur looks like or what are the exact working properties of bones. But your arguments here don't make sense to me. No one who has gone to the trouble of making a flute from bone is going to consider it disposable. They'd be more likely to treat it as magic and sacred! (Which is what it is.) Especially if they were carrying it around, they would want it to be durable. So, preserving the thick ends would be important. Does bone break cleanly? Would a flutemaker risk ruining a good bone? Would they have tools to make a smooth end? This doesn't click with me. I can much more easily believe the bone was left whole and an endhole was inserted.
This might be the clincher: You said you couldn't clearly identify the center of that hole. Perhaps there was more than one center. If this was not a fingerhole, there would be no need to keep it round. It could have simply been expanded in a convenient direction until the low note was acceptable. Unfortunately, it was expanded so much that the flute eventually broke at that point! I hope the flutemaker learned his lesson.
I'm sure you can find photos of bone flutes from more recent times. It would be worth checking to see whether there are any made from broken pieces. It may have been a different world back then, but the constraints in working with bone were likely much the same.
3. Size of holes: Since you're only looking for ballpark note assignments, I guess you don't need to be overly concerned about hole size. Also, as I said in my initial letter to you, there is no reason to assume that this was a well-tuned flute. I definitely agree that the unequal hole spacing suggests at least an attempt at a diatonic scale. I don't know of any other reason for such inequality
4. Conical/cylindrical. As I said before, I'm hampered by ignorance about femurs. I stand corrected. --Mark
Mon Apr 14 1997
From David Harnish,
to Bob Fink
I enjoyed reading about this "oldest instrument" to date, and all of the speculation about the tonal material is fascinating. I read the material in Ethnoforum.
However, I should point out that major/minor scales and "do re mi" have nothing to do with the tonal material. These musical concepts developed thousands of years later. The four holes could certainly support a diatonic development, or perhaps not. Even today there are thousands of tone systems in which flutes have unequal spaces but no concept of diatonic exists. I believe the article also implies ideas of heptatonic systems and possibly harmony. Any "harmony" here would be perhaps any simultaneous musical sounds and, from the information given, there is no reason to suggest any more tones are needed. Again, today in many parts of the world 3, 4, and 5 tone scales are well known and sufficient to the given system.
I think that part of the problem with the above speculations is that no ethnomusicologist - who perhaps would have a broader view of the history and current state of the world's music - is reviewing the data. I strongly recommend that someone at an appropriate Canadien instutition is consulted to provide another perspective.
Thank you for the information and the consideration.
Sincerely, David Harnish Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology Bowling Green State University
April 14, 1997 From Bob Fink to David Harnish
Dear David:
The material in Ethnoforum was just an abstract of the entire essay.
You wrote: "I should point out that major/minor scales and "do re mi" have nothing to do with the tonal material. These musical concepts developed thousands of years later."
It has been my view from the time I wrote the book Origin of Music (1960-1970) that IF a people have developed the diatonic scale, then tonality must exist with it. I cannot believe the scale can exist without it: Its pattern of unequal notes owes its very existence to a tonic, unless the scale arose completely differently than anyone imagines (e.g., randomly).
On this point, you might see my book (under the earlier title The Universality of Music) using interlibrary loan, from the Cleveland or Columbus Public Library. There are no records of it under either title at Bowling Green. Maybe you might see if they'll purchase one: The ad is at:
While I don't believe the scale developed (as believed by Smith, Ellis, Engel and Sachs) from the extended cycle of fifths, even if it did, the acoustics of that process indicates a process of human (and Neanderthal too?) selection being made based on the relationship of tones, which is the beginning (at the very least) of tonality. It may not be a conscious "concept," but like use of our sense of balance, we don't need a conscious notion of "gravity" in order to react to regain balance if we are falling.
It may be that if the Neanderthals developed the tonal system implied in the diatonic, then it may have been lost, only to be rediscovered by homo sapiens. But in any event, tonality is born when the diatonic is born.
My definition of tonality is based on "a sense of key, cadence, melody or other temporal relationship between notes." (See Apel, Harvard Dictionary of Music: "keyishness.")
You wrote: "I think that part of the problem with the above speculations is that no ethnomusicologist - who perhaps would have a broader view of the history and current state of the world's music - is reviewing the data."
Have things changed among ethnomusicologists since I wrote my book? I studied them extensively before and when writing my book (along with studying acoustics and psychology in relation to the matter). I had a lot of problems with exactly the lack of a "broader view" or a real interdisciplinary approach among many ethnomusicologists (although many ethnomusicologists use that word) -- notably, in the work by Merriam, Seeger, along with Meyer, et al. Many of their experiments were seriously flawed, and their observations were even lacking in perception. I go into detail on them in the appendix of my book (pp. 239-247). They not only contradict the established work in other fields, especially of acoustics (Helmholtz and thereafter), but they often write as though they never read any of it.
In addition, in their effort to overcome ethnocentricity, and avoid the concept of "primitiveness," they ravaged the notion of evolution in musical systems, as if any given culture's musical system was an externally-unconnected "beginning and end" within its own internal framework.
You wrote: "The four holes could certainly support a diatonic development, or perhaps not. Even today there are thousands of tone systems in which flutes have unequal spaces but no concept of diatonic exists."
True. But if you look at the bottom of the website containing the entire essay on the Neanderthal flute-- --then you'll find a link called "the debate begins." David Halperin has mentioned the issue of other scales being matched to the same 4 notes found on the bone. Much of what I would ask you I asked him in my response to his concerns, especially regarding the odds of a match, and the idea of looking at the cross-cultural spreading power of the diatonic compared to other scales. --Bob Fink
P.s. There is little to "review" in the Data of the essay: You don't need to be an ethnomusicologist to review the following:
a) The holes are a match to similar holes in a diatonic flute. This is a simple visual or proportional matter, able to be checked by anyone with a pair of proportional dividers.
b) The bone could have been long enough to allow these 4 holes to be played in tune (checked by zoologists & paleontologists), and they sound like do, re, mi and fa or flat-mi fa, sol and flat-la. All you need for this are ears.
c) The chances that these 4 notes would be intended as a match to other scales than the diatonic (or been spaced as they are by random processes) are possible but really very slim. This has been checked by mathematicians.
David Harnish to Bob Fink April 15 1997:
Dear Bob:
Thanks for your responses and clarifications. I still feel you need to tread carefully. Theorizing an entire music system from one flute is not advisable. I was referring to work with ethnomusicologists when it comes to tonal and intervallic analysis, not on acoustics. What perhaps a few scholars could do is indicate whether or not similar tetratonic scales exist now and today somewhere on Earth.
Have you taken cents [Note: "cents" are 1/100th of a semitone] readings of the tones? The fact that it may sound like "do re mi" means little. I think analysis should move away from the sphere of Western comparison, since the culture which gave rise to this music has nothing to do with Western culture.
The term "diatonic" also seems kind of loaded. Their concept of half and whole tones would not be directly related to our understanding of these today. I think you should be careful of the terms you employ to describe this flute, its tones and measurements, and any system apparently derived from it. respectively yours, --dh
Bob Fink to David Harnish: April 15, 1997:
Dear David:
Of course, you're right -- I am not against ethnomusicologists reviewing the work. I already had sent out prelinminary drafts of the work to as many musicologists, ethno or other-o, asking for input. And that feeling about consultation continues.
When you read my essay, you'll note from the dimensional charts that use of cents (impossible under the circumstances of the fragment) is unnecessary anyway: To my amazement, the Neanderthal's holes 2, 3 and 4 are virtually dead-on regarding being (acoustically) perfectly-placed (if the bone behaves as if it was essentially cylindrical). They couldn't have been more accurate!!
On the other hand, the first hole, the neutral third, by definition, is a compromise of tuning that defies more sense being made of it by using our cents.
Anyway cents are way beyond the accuracy capacity of Neanderthals who are dealing with a non-cylindrical bore bone, with varying wall thicknesses and inside diameters. Knowing the cents, therefore, would tell us what??
You wrote "What perhaps a few scholars could do is indicate whether or not similar tetratonic scales exist now and today somewhere on Earth."
Of course they do. On this point, again, the correspondence between Halperin and me is illuminating, although you still might not agree after reading it. The point is that my essay as you read it will do the following:
* Simply report that the 4 notes are "consistent with the diatonic scale's notes." For me not to make this comparison to the western system or western history means not to write an essay nor do an analysis at all. What else would I do with those four holes if not compare and conclude whether they played notes of significance to the evolution of scales in general? And in particular, to the acoustically perfect scale (which actually defies being called a "cultural" scale anymore)?
* Indicates the mathematical closeness of the match to the acoustic scale -- a simple matter of reporting the measurements;
* Indicates (in the Appendix, especially ) what are the likeliest eventualities: Namely:
But rest assured, I am also, by philosophical bent, a relativist, in science and sociology. I believe almost everything is environmentally conditioned or determined, and that little is "hard-wired" or "natural." (But I simply won't accept that nothing at all is naturally determined).
Having said all that, I remain a normal, biased opinionated person, and I feel entitled to draw further conclusions from what I have "reported" as objectively as I could in the essay. It is these further conclusions that may set off alarms in you or others -- namely that indeed, since the odds are in my favour, then yes, I believe the 4 notes are probably part of the whole diatonic scale as we know it; and yes there is a natural foundation to this tonal key-scale such that we can and should expect to find it emerge anywhere and anytime, and that it will have greater appeal for people's ears (over time) than any other musical system or scale.
Opinions like that are consistent with the data I reported -- but I'll grant, the data cannot prove those views right, other than to give a level of probability for their being right. Other different opinions can also be consistent with the same data. The question is: which of these are most probable? So, as I wrote to others: If I'm right, the headline reads: "Musicologist Cracks Riddle of Ancient Flute Holes." If I'm wrong, then it's going to read: "Ancient, Cracked Musicologist Riddled with Holes in his Flute!" -- Bob Fink
From: david harnish to Bob Fink, April 16 1997:
Thanks for all the info. I now have a much better idea of your research. Your hypotheses are safer than I presumed.
If you ever get the chance you might speak with an Indian (from India) musicologist you could tell you precisely which raga those tones are in. The reason I suggested that ethnomusicologists could be of help is that many of us have had to work to answer the history of various cultures' musics, and we have read extensive data of earlier scholars. Most of those earlier scholars (Sachs, Hornbostel, Densmore, even Merriam) often present incomplete or at least partially inaccurate data because they looked at that music through a Western lens (not one based on acoustics as yourself). I had feared you were doing the same.
Good luck with this fascinating work. Yours, --dh
Subject: Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997
To: Bob Fink,
Hi Bob
I just skimmed through your fascinating website containing the analysis of the bone flute. I was wondering if a range of possible lengths for a bear cub femur could be estimated, as this would put a limit on the possible length of the flute. There must be some relationship between the diameter of a femur and its length. Thanks for a great read.
Oliver Kuhn
Bob Fink to Oliver Kuhn, April 14, 1997
Dear Oliver Kuhn
The acoustic relationship between a flute's fundamental note (for the air column) is 12.05 times (distance between holes for Fa and Sol) for this bone fragment -- giving us a 42cm air column. As flutes need only about 87% of that length for the barrel length, the flute (to be dead in tune) would have to be 37cm. Even at 1 cm more, or 5 cm less length, it would still sound relatively in tune.
After arriving at this length, the possible length for the yearling femur was sought from paleontologists, museum people, and archeologists. They all supported the idea that a 37cm (or more) femur length was possible based on the 2cm diameter (minimum) of the fragment.
Sample of responses:
From: Boylan P.,
"Since [my letter] of 11 March I managed to work on quite a few immature cave bear bones in the collections of the Zarodny (National) Museum in Prague and there's no problem about getting your required length [37cm] so far as I can see from various bones from the same region."
From: treasure@CTCnet.Net Organization: Treasures of The Earth Ltd.
"Mr. Fink, "Thanks for the clarification. Yes, a juvenile bear femur could be 37cm or longer." --Jay (Treasures of The Earth Ltd.)
From: Wm Nolen Reeder, wreeder@Traveller.COM
"According to both our mammal curator and our director, the femur of a black bear cub (less than two years old) would easily be long enough. A two year old cub is about two thirds grown but still remains with the mother so therefore is still considered a cub."
--Wm Reeder Birmingham Zoo Webmaster"
I hope this answers your questions.-- Bob Fink
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