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The Neanderthal Flute & the Diatonic Scale
By Bob Fink,
Written Summer, 2002; Published here March, 2003; Updated Aug. 2003 
 
REPLY TO NOWELL & CHASE
LATEST [FALL 2000]  NEANDERTHAL FLUTE PAPER;
 
[and added Oct., 2003, near bottom:
Reply to latest 2003 d'Errico et al paper]
 
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Some time ago, April Nowell sent a message to my e-mail, by accident, thinking it belonged to someone else. In it she mentioned her paper given at The Archaeology of Sound conference in Germany in the Fall of 2000 given by the Music Archeology Group. She wrote:
"I also presented a paper with Philip Chase at the Music conference outside of Berlin and not only did our research support Dr. d'Errico's taphonomic analysis but we showed quite clearly why the holes do not correspond to a diatonic scale. It is basic biology and basic music theory/math."
In that paper, authored by her and Philip Chase, as I later learned, she & Chase spent about half the paper attempting to refute my arguments regarding the Neanderthal flute being consistent with notes of the do, re, mi scale.
I wrote back to Nowell, letting her know she reached me by mistake, but that I would very much like to see her paper's latest arguments against my view.
I was never afforded the courtesy of a reply to that. Nowell doesn't appear to want me to see her paper -- but I expected it will be published some time soon in the proceedings of last year's conference. However, I searched the Internet hoping to find something about her paper or similar views if not something about the paper itself.
I found a number of results, including an article, called "California Wild" in the Summer, 1998 journal Horizons in which she made a similar argument as she made earlier to other media in 1998 that the bone was too short to support "all" the notes of the do, re, mi scale (one of her first of many inaccuracies in characterizing what my views were).
In the Horizons interview, the writer reported that "Nowell and Chase teamed with a more musically inclined colleague to show that the bear bone would need to be twice its natural total length to conform to a diatonic scale." The writer also quoted her thus: 'This is a gnawed bone,' " said archaeologist April Nowell at a recent meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society. "'There's no evidence to suggest that it's a flute.' "
Really! -- "No evidence" to suggest that??
Finally after a long, long search, I actually found the Chase/Nowell paper itself around March or April at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~pchase/. (In the event this page eventually becomes no longer available, please see relevant excerpt at the bottom of this article.)
One should be careful when quoting others' views, to read material carefully, and give credit and attempt to be accurate, without exaggerations, if one is to be scholarly. I feel Nowell & Chase have been at best sloppy in their arguments and quotes, failing to give credit for statements, views and images, and I can only wonder if it goes beyond sloppy to being deliberate.
In the paper, titled: Is a cave bear bone from Divje Babe, Slovenia a Neanderthal flute? half of it was entitled: "The Divje Babe specimen and the diatonic scale," directed at what they think are my views.
As they did before, Nowell & Chase in this paper again challenged the view I proposed in my essay on the Neanderthal Flute. They wrote that the specimen bone was too short or would need an extension to play its notes in tune with any diatonic series of tones. They also provided an image to illustrate their point about an extension.
This image, shown below, is compared to another image that I had in my original 1997 essay on the Neanderthal Flute, well before Nowell and Chase entered debate on this issue.
 
 
It's clear that my image was adapted from my essay by Chase & Nowell for their own purposes [without any mention of the source].
However, even this adaptation is less accurately complete than it is convenient for their point of view, as they seem to be proposing the length required only to play "Match 2 " in my essay, namely (using the key of C), Eb, F, G, Ab, in a minor C-scale.
However, I also proposed a "Match #l," almost as good a match, but for the notes C D E F (or do-re-mi-fa), in a major scale. The bone-lengths Nowell and Chase would have to depict in the graphic, to play this match in tune, could be significantly shorter (although still requiring an extension to the flute) than the lengths they illustrate.
Nowell & Chase have accepted the bone-length offered by Turk. But an extension may not have even have been necessary at all: See the views of several paleontologists below, all agreeing the bone could have been much longer.
In general, it appears my views were misrepresented.
Nowell & Chase saw my image, which proposed a visual match of spacings on the bone to a diatonic series of notes. The length of my flute image (shown) implies my awareness of the length needed to play these tones in tune. But forget implications. I also wrote, in the 1997-1998 Internet publication of my essay that an extension might be needed:
"How long was the original flute? 37 centimeters (+1 /-5cm) -- is our present estimate based on empirical measurements of commercial flute-lengths and interpolating these to the bone segment, which may have been extended to reach the required length...."
See: http://www.greenwych.ca/fl-compl.htm ( Neanderthal Flute Essay )
And later in the essay, I wrote:
"NOTE: We have no idea, however, how long a mouthpiece would have been. It could have been any significant length --especially if the femur was too short to support lower, richer tones." (This latter quote also is in the original hardcopy edition that went to major libraries throughout 1997 and early 1998, prior to any of Chase & Nowell's articles. ) It looks like they didn't even seriously read my essay, which also had an "UPDATE" at the bottom of the page that clearly admitted the bone may have been too short.
Nowell & Chase therefore knew (or should have known) that I realized the flute had to be extended for the notes to be playable in tune. I even calculated the lengths in the first paragraphs of my essay (quoted above) which, I guess, they took to be bone length rather than extension length.
Nevertheless, they again calculated extension lengths that would be required, which came out to be virtually the same as those I earlier calculated in my original essay, but they wrote this up leaving the reader to easily (and incorrectly) conclude I had little awareness that the flute even needed to be longer -- even though I earlier calculated the same approximate lengths!
The impression left then, in attempting to refute my view, is that it was "they" who had first figured out the flute had to be longer or extended (two or three times longer, they stressed in their calculations).
Therefore, Nowell & Chase imply that these calculations and ideas were newly developed by them, and it implies that I didn't know these facts, or that I had proposed that a short flute could play those hole-tones in tune, or that in general, they implied I had no idea of the "mistake" I had made (dummy that I am -- uh duh).
At least, whenever the required length including the idea of an "extension" was mentioned, they never accurately attributed to me any prior awareness of these ideas about needed length.
If they HAD acknowledged that the calculations had already been made by me; and that the idea that the flute had to be longer (either a longer bone, or extended with an added mouthpiece) already had been proposed in my original 1997 essay, then the whole impact of their "refutation" case against me seems to vanish, and one wonders what would have remained of the whole point in their paper on the scale, other than to try to portray me as incompetent.
All they finally wrote about was the "news" that an extension would be needed, but that there was "no evidence" an extension was used. While that lack of evidence is only true regarding taphonomy (an inexact science at ranges of 5o,ooo years ago), this is yet another fact I earlier recognized (see my quote above, and which Chase and Nowell also failed to acknowledge was in my essay). Indeed, I readily labeled it an "assumption," and that nothing was "proven."
The grounds I gave to justify making the assumption was that it perfectly and simply explains the holes-spacings that were "consistent"with spacings on a diatonic flute, and it would be more comfortable to blow. Flutes made in sections, or extended, or with added mouthpieces, are not uncommon in the evolution of flutedom.
Without that assumption, the holes would remain a very coincidental mystery -- and extreme coincidence is not a scientific explanation of anything when a simple assumption can avoid it. No Occam's Razor there! [See calculations of the odds against chance producing such a flute-like bone.]
Which assumption would you rather believe? That a flute could have been extended by another bone or mouthpiece -- or that a one-in-millions event served to bring into being, by sheer accident, a nearly complete diatonic flute with 4-holes neatly lined-up, spaced diatonically, on a hollow femur, with virtually round holes, equal diameters -- the size of finger-tips...?
This is what Nowell says is "NO evidence to suggest a flute"?? What an extreme and unbelievable statement. At the end of her paper below, perhaps being more moderate in her view there than she was with the media, she wrote: "At this point, it is in fact impossible disprove either hypothesis" (about whether it was a flute or not).
In accepting d'Errico's comparison to individual holes in other bones found only where animals existed, both d'Errico and Nowell & Chase have focussed in on the holes, but not on the whole; they see the holes, but not the line-up or a scale; like seeing the trees, but not the forest.
(For more detail on matters of taphonomy, & Ivan Turk's views, see Chewchip)
When Nowell & Chase wrote about the length of the bone, they further mentioned absolutely nothing of my earlier quoted material in which the views of several paleontologists indicated the original complete juvenile cave-bear femur bone could itself have been much longer, or even long enough (without an added extension) to accommodate the holes being able to play "in tune" a diatonic series of tones, and even long enough to add more holes. These quotes were also published as a possibility of length of the bone in April, 1997 both in library hardcopies and on the Internet -- prior to Chase and Nowell writing anything.
 
Quotes on Length of the Bone
 
From: Boylan P., P.Boylan@city.ac.uk "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. "Thanks for the clarification [I had provided Jay the width dimension). 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.
The attempt to diagram a completed femur by Turk was done using a Brown (or Black) Bear cub femur, rather than an actual cave bear cub's femur (although both bears are certainly similar). Two of the opinions above are based on actual juvenile cave bear femurs -- that is, after being given the minimum across-width of the found Neanderthal bone, the paleontologists' opinions say the length -- based on the ratio of width-to-length in their experience with cave-bears -- could be long enough, thus being able to play the four holes in tune (without an extension/mouthpiece being added). It could even provide room for additional holes.
In the Turk diagram, the suggested completion of the black bear bone shows a width slightly larger than the width of the found bone. Placing it up close to the found bone does create the "short" length Turk's people suggest for the femur, but it also prevents a smooth line being drawn to connect the two widths together. There is an abruptness there. This could be a drawing error, but is likely not. (In addition, there are two Turk chapters in which a diagram of a completed flute is made, each slightly different in length using a Brown Bear juvenile femur. I don't know what to make of these differences, if anything).
Therefore, that completed end could be pulled much further away from the found bone, and still have its width connected to the found bone with a smoothly curved line, still appropriate to the kind of curve that nature usually imparts to femurs. How much further may never be knowable. But it could allow a playing of the flute being well in tune, without my assumption of an extension, and even allow a complete scale.
But even if all this is rejected or wrong, nevertheless, with the assumption of an extension more comfortable to fit the mouth, it remains true that the 4 hole scale in the bone could be played relatively in tune -- or as I originally concluded -- "consistent with" a series of the first 4 tones from a common diatonic scale.
I do not believe, although no actual experiment has been done to my knowledge, that these tones would be appreciably different in pitch, within even a fraction of a half-tone, due to the minor non-cylindrical aspects of the actual bone. Such an experiment with an actual replica of the bone should be done, but Turk has not seemed interested in that. His own experiments have provided musical tones that were useable to play modern tunes (see Origins of Music, MIT Press, 2000), but his only interest and focus was simply to prove that musical sounds of any kind could be elicited from the bone, and for this, he used its broken length only. No attempt to reconstruct a full length femur flute to play sounds -- even a short one -- was made.
Regarding the spacing of the 4 holes: That is indisputable to anyone who is not literally myopic -- a look at any any simple Irish flute, or other historical flute able to play the diatonic, will exhibit exactly the same unique 4-hole spacing within its several scale holes, a spacing that is not equidistant, and hardly imitable by nature.
Update: Jan 2004 -- * Lacking clear taphonomic evidence,
how could we tell artifact from accident?
 
 
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Updated Mar 2003-- Two New Books on Music Origins & Music Archaeology 

The Divje Babe specimen and the diatonic scale
(Excerpts from April Nowell & Philip Chase)
{Note: Most of the figures & images cited below are missing in the original Nowell webpage
and captions appear mislabelled in some cases.
Annotations by myself are shown in brown italics -- B.F.}
 
It has been suggested on the World Wide Web by Bob Fink that the Divje Babe specimen was tuned to a diatonic scale. This suggestion has not been published in the traditional academic sense, but it has made its way into the secondary literature [Wolpoff 1999, 700]. Fink bases his interpretation on the spacing of the holes. The distance between the "partial hole" at the proximal end and the nearest complete hole is approximately one-half the distance between the two complete holes: 18 mm versus 35 mm.[Turk et al. 1997b, 161] On a flute, the distance between the holes representing a semitone is - at least schematically - about one half the distance representing a whole tone. Thus Fink's observation is suggestive.
In fact, however, the spacing of the holes on the Divje Babe specimen cannot be related to the whole and half tones of a diatonic scale for the simple reason that the spacing between them is far too great relative to the maximum possible length of a flute made from a cave bear femur of this size. [This fact dominates the bulk of the material and diagrams placed in my original Essay, which is still on the net and in libraries in unchanged format. Why not report that my essay already established this fact? The implication here is that my scholarship omitted this calculation.]
If we ignore certain complicating factors (see below), then the theoretical locations of finger holes in a flute tuned to a diatonic scale are simple to calculate. The distance between the mouthpiece and the nearest hole is 1/2 the acoustic length of the flute. From that point on, a note a whole tone lower can be obtained by making a hole 9/8 of the distance from the mouthpiece to the most distant hole already drilled. A note one semitone lower can be obtained by making a hole 256/243 of the distance from the mouthpiece to the most distant hole already drilled.
In this way, it is possible to calculate, for a flute of any given length, the maximum distance between holes representing a whole tone; and it is then easy to calculate this as a fraction of the whole length of the flute. [Again, this is not news -- my original essay, prior to any work done by Nowell, already came up with this whole length estimate. A range of length was offered to account for tolerance of the ear as to what is 'in tune' and for other factors, such as wall thickness, flare, hole and bore sizes. However, only one estimate of length was given, not several, as claimed by Nowell.]
If we do this for a major scale, we see that the maximum distance between holes, expressed as a fraction of the total length of the flute, is 0.099 (figure 5 missing). The distance between the two complete holes of the Divje Babe specimen is 0.308 of the total length of the specimen (35 ÷ 113.6).[Turk et al 1997b, 161] In other words, this distance (0.308 of total length) is approximately three times too large to produce a whole tone.
[See the comparison images reproduced above which includes Nowell version of flute length]
The distance from the last hole (re) on a open-ended flute to the end of the flute (do) is actually slightly larger (0.111 of total length) than is the distance from re to mi in the major scale. However, since the bone extends beyond the two "partial holes" at both ends of the Divje Babe specimen, it is clear that neither represents 'do' [of the scale]. In any case, 0.111 is still much less than 0.308.
Fink raises the possibility that the flute was actually tuned to a minor rather than a major scale. However, the maximum distance representing a whole tone on a minor scale is never greater than that of a major scale. [Red herring -- No claim was made in my Essay that a "minor" whole tone is different from a major -- so why raise it? This implies that I did say this, and therefore makes me appear as an ignoramous. Further, the possibility of it matching part of a minor scale had nothing to do with defending it was a flute, as this issue -- that it wasn't a flute -- hadn't even been raised at the time of the writing of my essay.]
With either scale, the Divje Babe specimen is much too short to represent a complete flute tuned to a diatonic scale. [Only at the end of Nowell's paper does she admit an extension would have made it possible to play it in tune -- a point I raised much earlier (March-April, 1997) which Nowell does not report that I already raised in the initial publication of my essay -- as an assumption needed regarding length of the complete flute, and the playing of the holes in tune.]
In order for a spacing of 35 mm between holes to represent a whole tone, the flute would have to be 353.5 mm long. (Fink provides different estimates of total length, ranging from 360 to 415 cm, depending on different matches between the holes on the bone and specific the notes of the scale.) [As said, nowhere do I give different estimates of length. Further, the range I suggest was not for such reasons as Nowell describes. I can only assume a misreading by Nowell of the essay, or even a non-reading of whole sections the essay.] Now it is clear that a considerable part of the original bone is missing in the Divje Babe specimen (figure 6a). However, most of the missing portion of the bone would not have been useable for a flute.
As was noted above, long bones consist of spongy tissue at the ends, and of a shaft containing the marrow cavity. The spongy tissue is covered by only a very thin membrane of bone, while the shaft has thicker walls of dense bone. The only part of the long bone that is suitable for making a flute, therefore, is that part of the shaft that is surrounded by dense bone. This varies according to the bone, the species, and the age of the individual (figure 7).
If we estimate that the useable part of the original Divje Babe femur was actually 25% longer than the existing specimen, we get a potential length of 142 mm. The 35 mm between the two holes represents 0.246 of this presumed length, still more than double the maximum for a whole tone.
Fink mentions the pentatonic scale, although he does not actually suggest that the Divje Babe specimen was tuned to this scale. However, pentatonic scales include larger intervals (1½ tones) than does the full 7-note diatonic scale. The largest inter-hole gap for such an interval is in the minor pentatonic scale (figure 5), and represents 0.133 of the total length of the flute. This also occurs next to a gap approximately one-half that size (0.063). Nevertheless, this is still far smaller than the gap between the holes on the Divje Babe specimen.
In short, it is quite clear that it would have been impossible to make a flute from the femur of which the Divje Babe specimen is a portion that would have been long enough so that the space between the existing holes would represent a whole tone - or even a whole tone plus a semi-tone. In order to construct such a flute, it would have been necessary to add extensions to both ends of the flute (figure 6b). There is no evidence that this was done, and it is hard to conceive of any reason that anyone would construct a flute by adding tubes to a fragment of bear femur. [Not so: Reasons, including a more comfortable sized mouthpiece, were already given, especially in the discussion webpages following my essay.] By far and away the most parsimonious explanation is that, if the Divje Babe specimen is a flute, it was never intended to produce a diatonic scale.
As noted above, a large number of complicating factors have been left out of the above discussion. Most notably, the acoustic length of a flute is greater than its physical length by an amount that depends on the diameter and form (cylindrical, conical) of the bore, [this fact was clearly noted in my essay] and the exact locations of finger holes depends in part on the diameter of the finger holes and their depths (i.e., the thickness of the flute wall).[Nederveen 1969] However, these effects would not be large enough to affect the conclusions drawn above. Fink, in fact, argues that such variables have minimal effect on tuning. Nevertheless, given that the bore shape, bore diameter, and wall thickness of most mammalian long bones are both very uneven over the length of one bone and very variable from one bone to another, it seems that such irregularities would undoubtedly made it very difficult to decide, a priori, where to make holes in order, to tune such a flute to a particular scale.
It is much more likely, if the Divje Babe specimen is indeed a flute, that either it was not played to any specific scale, or else that the use of finger holes was combined with other methods of altering pitch [Kunej 1997] in order to produce the desired results. In any case, the physical dimensions of this specimen provide no evidence for the use of either a diatonic or pentatonic scale.
It is important to note that we are not arguing that the Divje Babe specimen is not a flute simply because it does not conform to either a diatonic or pentatonic scale. We are arguing, however, that one cannot use the spacing of the holes to claim that they conform to such a scale and then use this argument to support the hypothesis that this object is a flute. [This logic appears to be grossly false, perhaps due to a tendency of the field to ignore or trivialize any corollary work in other fields, e.g., musicology, statistics. For example, if the bone had a slit that could serve as a mouthpiece, should that also be ignored??] More to the point, the Divje Babe specimen, even if it is in fact a flute, does not document the use of a diatonic or pentatonic scale 43,000 years ago.
Conclusion
 
The specimen from Divje Babe is, to say the least, an intriguing and potentially very important object. If it is a flute, it would document the existence of music at about 43,000 years ago. Because this probably predates the arrival of anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Europe, it would also document the making of music by Neanderthals. If Fink's interpretation were correct, it would also document the use of a diatonic scale at this early date.
While a difference of opinion is possible concerning the status of the Divje Babe specimen as a flute, in our opinion the evidence against the Divje Babe specimen as evidence for the existence of a diatonic scale 43,000 years ago is conclusive. Given the dimensional requirements of a flute tuned to a diatonic scale, there is simply no way that the spacing of the holes on this specimen reflects the existence of adjacent whole- and semi-tones, and there are therefore no grounds for inferring tuning to a diatonic scale.
Nevertheless, there are a number of things about this bone that make it appear that it was in fact a deliberately manufactured flute. On the other hand, there are also things about it that indicate it is simply the product of natural processes. There is little dispute about the observations that have been made on the specimen itself. There are, however, disagreements about the interpretation of these observations. At this point, it is in fact impossible disprove either hypothesis. Which hypothesis one accepts, then, depends on one's assessment of their relative probability, as well as one's assessment of the level of confidence necessary if one is to document the origins of music. It should be clear from the brief discussion above, as well as an earlier more detailed and technical analysis, [Chase/Nowell 1998] that we feel the taphonomic explanation is the more probable one. We also feel that documenting the early date of a major development in human behavior demands of the evidence a rather high degree of certainty.
Others will certainly disagree with our assessment. Moreover, new analyses and experiments will provide more information about this specimen. [Turk et al. n.d.] The major point we wish to make here, however, is that in cases such as this, human workmanship cannot be assumed lightly on the basis of appearance alone. It is essential to investigate alternative, taphonomic hypotheses. Only after doing so is one able to accept or reject an artifact as evidence for the existence of a phenomenon such as music.
 

 
REPLY TO D'ERRICO'S SEPT, 2000 (publ. 2003) PAPERS
AT THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF SOUND CONFERENCE
AND FURTHER REPLY TO NOWELL, ET AL,
ON THE LINE-UP OF THE HOLES
 
By Bob Fink, updated July, 2003
 
PREFACE:
Before going into my reply, I would like to quote from Nowell & Chase from "The Divje Babe specimen and the diatonic scale" in Studies in Music Archaeology III, p.74:
"At this point, it is in fact impossible 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...." [Note the word "probability."]
And this similar quote from "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."
We also need to be reminded of the following, from the same source:
Holes in the specimen "were almost certainly made sequentially rather than simultaneously and that the distance between them has nothing to do with the distance between any two teeth in a wolf's jaw."
 
In his paper published in February 2003 [Studies In Music Archaeology III], Francesco d'Errico again took up the issue of whether the Neanderthal flute was a flute or just a bone.
[Also see: "Fatal Flaw," ]
The issue of explaining its holes being lined up is again ignored by d'Errico, or if he has ever actually written or said anything about it elsewhere, he is reported totally dismissing the line-up of the 4 holes along the central axis of the bone line-up as evidence of it being the result of intelligence (as did Nowell & Chase).
The line up of 4 circular holes -- on any object, especially a cylindrical one -- is usually prima facia evidence of intelligence at work. NOTE! It is "evidence." I didn't write: "proof." After all, a line-up in a straight line of the 4 holes is "possible" to occur by chance.
Just as in the case of a Las Vegas "one-armed bandit," so too, in the case of this Divje Babe bone, the line-up could occur by blind, dumb chance. Namely: Once in about 10,000 or more trials, or once in 10,000 instances of finding a four-hole femur. (See odds )," or my article in the "Studies in Music Archaeology III," p.83).
That rareness means that the line-up of the holes in the bone is "likely" to have been deliberate -- note again, I write the word "likely," not "proof" -- because on the bone, it happened in one initial find without the benefit of many hundreds or thousands of other prehistoric 4-holed bones being found to allow the event to unfold under normal chance expectations [as happens in a gambling casino].  I recall a report that fewer than 30 similar multiple-hole bones exist.
Additionally, if you also look at the spacing between the holes and see that it also matches the spacing of a do-re-mi-fa scale spacings on a flute -- the odds of that happening by chance (on that size bone) are only once in 640 cases, as was calculated in my 1997 Neanderthal Bone essay's Appendix. See: [Appendix]
 
NOTE: If the hole spacing had matched a spacing between the teeth of any carnivore, that would have quite loudly been considered evidence of a carnivore origin to the bone!
Therefore, why wouldn't the spacing of the holes being a match to a very unique spacing within a world-wide historic musical scale (the "diatonic" scale) -- from among hundreds of otherwise meaningless spacing possibilities -- also be considered evidence (of intelligent origin), rather than be totally dismissed?
 
Now we must ask: What are the chances the holes could line up AND be spaced diatonically? That is, take a simple cylinder about the size of the Divje Babe bone and simply calculate: "How many different ways can 4 holes be spaced on it (whether lined-up & "diatonic" or not) without repeating any arrangement?"
To answer, we have to multiply the odds of the two events, the axial line-up and the horizontal spacing -- which tells us that the chances of random chewing, one hole at a time, being what makes the match without intelligent help, are only about one chance in 7 million. (Again, see odds .)
This calculation -- again -- is evidence that the "look" of the holes on that bone is designed by intelligence, not by chance.
This tends to overwhelm all the taphonomic evidence, especially d'Errico & Nowell's et al weak evidence about which many experts disagree.
And again, this is only "evidence" -- not "proof" -- because, after all, it could happen by chance, once, provided we sorted through enough millions of 4-hole bones that did not line up nor match a musical scale's spacing.
Now readers should consider the terminology: "relative probability," used by Nowell & Chase, prefaced above.
D'Errico's reasoning appears to be thus: Since there IS a real 1- in- a- 7 million chance for it to happen without input from a designing brain, therefore, he thinks it's "probable" that in fact it did happen by chance, rather than by design -- and that the look of it being like a flute is "simply coincidence."
This is reasoning that seems to say that what is "possible" [no matter how small the possibility] is also "probable"!!! -- There is a big difference between "possible" and "probable" in simple mathematical statistics. Maybe we need a trip back to statistics classes!
I don't call that "reasoning." I call that an outright dismissal of pertinent evidence staring d'Errico et al  in their faces, or if they have in fact said nothing at all to explain the line-up in any document or speech anywhere else, then it marks a refusal to look at real evidence of intelligence behind the making of the holes, implying the line-up needs no explanation.
But I'm mindful of more: What are the additional odds that the holes (again by "chance") would be separately bitten [one at a time, as all agree -- see preface quote above], and be of similar diameters (AND all circular rather than a tooth-like oval)? The answer is to calculate the many thousands of ways the holes could be non-circular and of apparently different diameters (or from different animal teeth). We then must again multiply those results -- which could be hundreds, or thousands, of possibilities -- by the 7 million we already have, and we'll get a one-out-of-billions for the chance the bone could have been randomly-bitten to becoming a "flute look-alike."
Let's do go even further! Even if they were similar diameters, what are the chances that accident would have made them similar to human finger-tip size? Calculate that, and multiply again.
Still further onward!! What are the chances all this would happen also on the very type of hollow, long, cylindrical bone usually used for making flutes (femurs)? And also in the proper ratio of hole diameter-to-bone diameter that is found in most flutes? Calculate that, and multiply yet again. We are now approaching an event whose odds for happening by chance may be smaller than one in trillions!
But we are asked, quite nonchalantly, to accept that it did happen so, by coincidence, and we're asked to dismiss that being evidence, and believe it is likely of no consequence of intelligence.
D'Errico is not known as doubting the capacity of Neanderthals to make a flute. But the controversy surrounding Neanderthals is such that there may be reluctance to pronounce on artifacts unless the proof is virtually absolute (which rarely occurs in any event). Many others have pointed out that if the bone had been found at a homo sapiens site, it would long ago have been classified as a flute.
Such opinions are held by Marcel Otte, Bjorn Merker (an editor of the recent 2000 Massachusetts Institute of technology book of essays "Origin of Music"), Prof. Bonnie Blackwell, and many other scholars, including archaeologists, musicologists, paleontologists, etc.
 
Dealing with the taphonomy, we note the holes were claimed as having bite marks around them; and that the holes being circular were explained by Nowell & Chase as having originally been oval, then weathered by erosion into a rounder shape -- but we ask:  Is this not a self-destructing argument?  If the erosion could render them circular, then so could the erosion erase both teeth marks as well as tool marks, leaving marks that could only be ambiguous at best after so many thousands of years.
Again, I also refer the reader to Ivan Turk et al taphonomic analysis provided in summary in my article, Chewchip
The Divje Babe bone is likely (using the word "likely" properly) the world's oldest known musical instrument and especially the earliest known diatonic-like sequence of hole spacings, which could have been sounded with a mouthpiece extension, especially if the bone was longer than presumed, as the opinions quoted by several museaum paleontologists indicated.
Update: Jan 2004 -- * Lacking clear taphonomic evidence,
how could we tell artifact from accident?
 

Neanderthal Flute Debate:
Add'l Correspondence & Rebuttals
 [Click on footnote numbers to read the footnote. Click "back" to return to place in text.]
 
A. G. wrote:
"To All: (but especially Bob):
"I have read the d'Errico piece (again, this is especially for Bob), and he [footnotes] Bob's Neanderthal Flute article. I guess under the circumstances, that's progress."
 
Reply (Bob Fink):
I have that article (from the Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 17, No. 1, March 2003) on my hard drive -- it is also a paraphrased copy of an article that appeared by d'Errico and others in the Studies in Music Archaeology III conference proceedings, 2003) (See end of Notes, below for citation.)
Apparently d'Errico et al are fighting to preserve his analysis about the Divje Babe bone (Neanderthal Flute) with repetitive publishings, but in doing so, he et al, further reveal their mistakes. The authorship here looks to me now even like downright fibbing, and cracks in d'Errico's (and April Nowell's) integrity (or competence & consistency) seem to be showing up. Take your choice which.
To wit: D'Errico et al, wrote this:
"It has been demonstrated (d'Errico et al., 1998a,b)  * that holes of the same size, shape, and number as those present on the Divje Babe femur occur*on cave bear limb bones from cave bear bone accumulations with no human occupation, and that a number of features described as human-made by the discoverers should more LIKELY be interpreted as the result of carnivore damage."  [ I have added the * and caps for emphasis in the quote.]
Any ordinary student or other person reading that section could easily assume  from this passage that there were other [non-human-made] bones found in d'Errico's chosen site that looked similar to the Divje Babe flute as a whole.
Ah yes! That's the beauty of language -- that it can strongly IMPLY what isn't even remotely true, without resorting to bald-faced  fibbing!!
The truth is, NONE of the bones d'Errico found there looked anything like the N-flute.1
Only individual holes or marks were matchable, on occasion, to these bones when compared to the Divje Babe bone's holes and marks. But even Ivan Turk, who found the bone and still believes it is a flute, readily admitted that.
An author with scientific competency or integrity would have added a phrase like this in the d'Errico article: "...although NOT ONE of the bones we found at our site had 3 or more of its holes 'lined-up' in the same way as Divje Babe."
But d'Errico didn't add that important observation. He didn't do it despite all the 'baiting' provocations of him (and Nowell) that I have relentlessly done regarding them refusing to even mention the "line-up" -- a phrase and fact too scary and obscene for their mouths to dirty-up by actually uttering it, not to mention putting it in writing. [I guess they're afraid if they do, they'll all turn into salt.]
They still refuse to mention it even in this latest of their articles. Guess why? It's because it means that their notion of "likely" becomes suspect once they call attention to the (dare I again write the dreaded phrase?) -- "line-up" -- that exists.
Their conclusions about what is "likely" will die a quick death in the minds of impartial and intelligent readers once the line-up is scrutinized regarding how "likely" it is that 4 (or even 3) holes could line-up from the chance-biting by carnivores -- not to mention that the holes also match the unique spacing 2 of do-re-mi-fa flute holes.
This had to happen one hole at a time, as all agree, because no two hole's pattern match any carnivore's tooth-span.3
You can bet if the hole spacings matched the tooth-span of any carnivore, they'd have made you notice that taphonomic feature in spades!! As if you were hit with their shovel. But NOT mentioned is when the measured spacings are both in-line and match a known worldwide scale's unique spacings -- which is just as much a taphonomic piece of evidence as any match to a known carnivore's tooth spans would be!
 
For her part, Nowell's lack of consistency or integrity exposes itself when she agrees to be a co-author of the article after arguing in her own earlier paper why the holes appear relatively "round." (Roundness is not a feature of any carnivore teeth able to bite through thick bone). She argued: It's due to long erosion, which rounded out the ovalness.
D'Errico's pictures and references in the article (shown below) to teeth marks and scratches are things that would also have eroded away if she's right. Does she join d'Errico in the current article by writing she was wrong to suggest erosion as an explanation for roundness?
 
If these marks came later, then they mean nothing for d'Errico's case. If they didn't come later, and were not eroded away, they still aren't very strong proof of anything about the holes (as bones are known to be chewed on after they were made into artifacts),4 but then, how do they now explain the rounding of the holes? ...Silence.
Why wouldn't Nowell bring up this problem of consistency in the signing of this new article?
Guesses, anyone??
More on Nowell's consistency, competence and integrity at the top of this article.
 
Here is what Turk wrote:
"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 5 is very small.
"If this probability were greater [and of course it isn't], 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 is: "...it is highly probable that the pierced bone from Divje babe I site is the product of human hands ...; this is a *great deal more probable* than that it was heavily chewed." Turk & Kunej, in Wallin, N. L./Merker, B./Brown, S. (eds.): The Origins of Music. MIT Press, Cambridge, London, 235-268 [Emph. added.]
But here is a rough order of magnitude for this: Just as in the case of a Las Vegas "one-armed bandit," so too, in the case of this Divje Babe bone, the line-up of 4 holes could occur by blind, dumb chance. Namely: Once in about 10,000 6 or more trials, or once in 10,000 instances of finding a four-hole femur.
Additionally, if you also look at the spacing between the holes and see that it also matches the unique spacing of the scale holes on a do-re-mi-fa flute -- the odds of that happening by chance (on that size bone) are only once in 640 cases, as was calculated in my 1997 Neanderthal Bone essay's "Appendix." See Fink, The Neanderthal Flute, or see: [http://www.greenwych.ca/fl-compl.htm#(See ]
When we multiply the odds of the two events, both the axial line-up and the horizontal spacing -- that tells us that the chances of random chewing, one hole at a time, being what makes the match without intelligent help, are only about one chance in 7 million!
More: What are the additional chances all this would happen, with approximately equal diameters of all 4 holes, also fitting finger sizes, and also on the very type of hollow, long, cylindrical bone usually used for making flutes (i.e., femurs)? And also in a proper ratio of hole-to-bone diameter that is found in most flutes?
Calculate all that, and multiply yet again. We are now approaching an event whose odds for happening by chance may be smaller than one in trillions!
But we are asked, quite nonchalantly, to accept that it did happen so by coincidence, and what leaves one speechless and gaping, d'Errico et al  add that this is "likely" or "probable"!! 7
Using the word "likely" properly, Divje Babe is likely the world's oldest known musical instrument, and especially, the earliest known diatonic-like sequence of hole spacings, which could have been sounded with a mouthpiece extension, especially if the bone was longer than presumed, as indicated in the 1997 opinions of 3 paleontologists quoted in my Studies...III article.8
--- Bob Fink
Update: Jan 2004 -- * Lacking clear taphonomic evidence,
how could we tell artifact from accident?
     
=====================
NOTES
1. Letter from a member of the Swedish Institute of Biomusicology:
"Bob:
"...I have not seen your argument against d'Errico - I guess that's the publication in Antiquity arguing against the ‘flute' on the basis of thousands of bones, some with holes in them, yes?
"I read it and was appalled at the bias that pervaded their write-up (and wrote Turk about it). Their bone collection convinced me in favor of Turk, because the one thing they maintain studious silence about is the linear arrangement of the holes -- they do not have a single bone among those thousands which comes even close to the striking linear alignment of Turk's holes (I gather from what you say that this is part of your argument against them), and not to discuss this central and crucial issue is just bad scholarship and bad science.
But [ there are] academic theories about the status of Neanderthals...at stake, and so they fight with the fury of theologians... The strange thing about science is that it progresses despite the biases of its practitioners, but that can be a long process in which lives are ruined along the way....
-- Bjorn Merker 1/9/2000,Sweden,
-- Editor of the Mass. Instit. of Technology (MIT, 2000) book of essays: Origins of Music. 
 
2. The holes are not evenly spaced. Four holes are lined-up, but they are spaced unequally -- not evenly -- and to one not familiar with a traditional do-re-mi flute -- the holes could appear to be "randomly" spaced.
But the measurements of the Divje Babe holes that I made in my Neanderthal essay almost perfectly match the unique proportional spacings found on any simple Irish do-re-mi whistle/flute (which are, again, not "evenly" spaced).
There are about 640 different ways to space 4 aligned holes on any similar sized tube or bone, almost all of which would seem meaningless or random. Only a few of those hundreds of spacings could match a known musical do-re-mi scale's spacings. That's why it's "unique" spacing. It's just like a unique fingerprint!  (The additional fact of the 4 holes being also aligned makes that uniqueness into being one in millions of possibilities, not just one in hundreds.)
3. Holes in the specimen "were almost certainly made sequentially rather than simultaneously and that the distance between them has nothing to do with the distance between any two teeth in a wolf's jaw." -- Nowell & Chase, in Current Anthropology, p.552 Vol. 39, No. 4, August - October, 1998.
4. "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 Wallin, N. L./Merker, B./Brown, S. (eds.): The Origins of Music. Cambridge, London, 235-268 [Emph. added.]
This quote makes the scratches cited by d'Errico in his latest article meaningless as proof of anything, not even indicative of the holes being carnivore-made -- because they are not sufficiently large enough nor located appropriately to seriously serve as counter-bites to the force necessary to bite 4 such large holes into existence (and without splitting the bone), nor are they similar to the larger hole sizes (i.e., where are there any smaller or partial holes that one might expect as well as the 4 equally-sized large hole diameters?)
To see these scratches, see the pics above of d'Errico's best "evidence." These could easily be explained as just chewing done afterward, especially if the discarded bone had, for one of many examples, simply been used to scoop food before being discarded.
5. Turk et al  point out 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. "..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. [Emph. added]
D'Errico never mentions this, although he knew of this evidence prior to writing his paper for the 2000 conference in Germany.
If no one could get a bone to be repeatedly punctured [as animal bites would do], without splitting the bone, isn't that significant evidence against carnivore origins? Did d'Errico try to experiment to get this to happen? Did d'Errico ever find any  naturally made cylindrical bones with 3 or 4-holes (of similar diameters as on the Divje Babe bone) that weren't  split?
Why didn't d'Errico deal with this evidence? Is he an incompetent or suddenly lacking in brain power? Of course not. Therefore, it appears to me he is deliberately ignoring this, and evidence like it, because it doesn't "fit" the prescribed and pre-judged conclusions.
6. See XC No.190 / OR article in the Studies in Music Archaeology III, p.83. Citation in note 8.
7. Nowell & Chase, "The Divje Babe specimen & the diatonic scale" in Studies in Music Archaeology III, p.74 wrote:
"At this point, it is in fact impossible 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...."  [Note the word "probability."]
And this similar quote: Current Anthropology, p.552 Vol. 39, No. 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."
8. Ellen Hickmann, Anne D. Kilmer and Ricardo Eichmann (ed.), Studies in Music Archaeology III, VML Verlag Marie Leidorf, Germany, 2002-3.
=================
Relevant background material to understand this issue:
Essay: The Neanderthal Flute, 1997;
Also: Essay: The Origin of Music and
Stages in the Evolution of Melody, Scales & Harmony.
Hardcopies of these essays are available from:
Greenwich Publishers
1829 Arlington Ave., Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan,
Canada S7H 2Y9
TEL# (306) 244-0679 or 931-2189

More detailed information on points discussed: See: Natural Basis to Scales
RELATED MATERIAL:
* 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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