June 24, 2009

Paleolithic Flutes from the early Aurignacian in Germany

The Hohle Fels site was in the news recently for the discovery of the "first depiction of the human form".

Nature doi:10.1038/nature08169

New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany

Nicholas J. Conard et al.

Considerable debate surrounds claims for early evidence of music in the archaeological record. Researchers universally accept the existence of complex musical instruments as an indication of fully modern behaviour and advanced symbolic communication1 but, owing to the scarcity of finds, the archaeological record of the evolution and spread of music remains incomplete. Although arguments have been made for Neanderthal musical traditions and the presence of musical instruments in Middle Palaeolithic assemblages, concrete evidence to support these claims is lacking. Here we report the discovery of bone and ivory flutes from the early Aurignacian period of southwestern Germany. These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago. Other than the caves of the Swabian Jura, the earliest secure archaeological evidence for music comes from sites in France and Austria and post-date 30,000 years ago

Link

18 comments:

eurologist said...

As with the recently published Venus figurine, these finds IMO show a huge cultural continuum with the Gravettian, and demonstrate that true Gravettian innovations were rather few.

eurologist said...

And this is how the flute sounded:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8117343.stm

Theo said...

- "Evolution faster when it's warmer" - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8115464.stm

Could explain why there us so much more genetic diversity amongst equatorial Africans as opposed to the White Europeans and Asians who live in colder northern climates.

Maju said...

As with the recently published Venus figurine, these finds IMO show a huge cultural continuum with the Gravettian, and demonstrate that true Gravettian innovations were rather few.

I'd agree that there is cultural continuity in Europe through all the UP and that probably Gravettian itself originated in Central Europe and nowhere else.

But Gravettian, like later Solutrean, is a distinct type of stone technology and that in itself is a clear cultural innovation (though related to Chaterlperronian and West Asian technologies). More when Aurignacian was clearly able to persist in some form until it evolved into Magdalenian. This still requires some sort of interpretation. Though not sure which one.

Maju said...

Could explain why there us so much more genetic diversity amongst equatorial Africans as opposed to the White Europeans and Asians who live in colder northern climates.

It's only a matter of 50% faster and it could not in any case explain why Africa has much more diversity than Australasia, America or even the tropical belt of Asia.

Kepler said...

I am an absolute layman, but what I had read (read it first in a Cavalli-Sforza book, but the notion is from the XIX century) was that genetic diversity had to do a lot with where the origin was located: the longer a group exists in a place, the more diversity occurs.

Homo sapiens appeared in Africa over 150000 years ago. Genetic Adam was not really the first man. Humans have been living in Europe or Asia for much less time and in America for even less (-20000).

eurologist said...

But Gravettian, like later Solutrean, is a distinct type of stone technology and that in itself is a clear cultural innovation (though related to Chaterlperronian and West Asian technologies). More when Aurignacian was clearly able to persist in some form until it evolved into Magdalenian. This still requires some sort of interpretation. Though not sure which one.

That's kind of my point. Of the many cultural innovations once associated with Gravettian, the stone tools are almost the only thing left - everything else seems to be a continuum, and a really long and steady one, at that. Since these people were (quite evidently, now) so advanced, had sufficiently easy sustenance and lots of free time for music, play, and art - why was there little improvement in tool and hunting technologies? While one could argue it wasn't necessary, laziness and the opportunity to spend more time in social/sexual interactions are the mother of invention.

It is almost as if part of the tool making was still innate, or changes were taboo, or even the most highly skilled stone workers were "low class" - the ones who couldn't hunt effectively, and weren't good at entertaining, either...

Maju said...

On the contrary, I'd say that tools were the cultural items that changed the most in European UP. In artistic aspects you see a development in the sense of growth: more and better (at least till Epipaleolithic, when art seems to have become rarer) but the toolkit evolves more extremely, with quite sudden swings of paradigm.

Even if the radicalism of such swings may have been exaggerated somewhat by the kind of typological studies that have dominated archaeology, and even if transitions were somewhat smoother (what is likely), the change of technological paradigm, not once but four times in Western Europe (it's only once in Eastern Europe and Italy) before microlithism, suggests that some meaningful sociocultural changes were taking place, regardless that there was also continuity in such processes.

eurologist said...

We are still talking about the same thing, I think. Stone tool development was the main >>apparent<< and categorizing item --- over something like 10,000 to 15,000 years. The flip side of that is cultural continuity in anything else, and tool changes during an enormously slow scale, compared to anything else even after the LGM.

Maju said...

Well, the whole transition Aurignacian > Gravettian > Solutrean takes like just c. 1000 years (the 22-21 kya window) in most of Iberia (and I presume it's also largely the case in southern France). This is quite fast for UP standards, moreso when they represent three very different typological styles.

It may be different in other parts of the continent but in SW Europe the LGM technological transition was clearly fast and probably competitive.

terryt said...

"But Gravettian, like later Solutrean, is a distinct type of stone technology and that in itself is a clear cultural innovation (though related to Chaterlperronian and West Asian technologies)".

Isn't the Chatelperronian still considered to be Neanderthal?

Maju said...

Doesn't matter if it's Neanderthal or Martian, typologically Chatelperronian and Gravettian (and some elements of Levantine technological complexes are nearly identical).

Not long ago (and you can still read recent books with that terminology) Chatelperronian and Gravettian were lumped together as Perigordian, though nowadays it's widely acknowledged that they are separated by vast stretches of time.

Similarly, Aurignacian and Magdalenian share also the same technological fundamentals. And it's widely believed that the latter evolved from some remnants of the first one.

terryt said...

"And it's widely believed that the latter evolved from some remnants of the first one".

And did the Gravettian evolve from the Chatelperronian? Seems that if they could be 'lumped together as Perigordian' they were extremely similar, and that implies quite intimate contact between Neanderthals and moderns.

Maju said...

Well that's what the old "French school" used to believe but:

1. There is a huge blank time span betwen both technologies
2. One seems to be the work of Neanderthal and the other of AMH (Cromagnid type)
3. Gravettian did not even appear in Occitania (where it is a late arrival) but in Central Europe probably

The most reasonable possibility is that both thecnologies had the same basic reference, which is found also in West Asian cultures for example. Another possibility would be convergent evolution but I think it's far-fetched.

eurologist said...

Well, the whole transition Aurignacian > Gravettian > Solutrean takes like just c. 1000 years (the 22-21 kya window) in most of Iberia (and I presume it's also largely the case in southern France). This is quite fast for UP standards, moreso when they represent three very different typological styles.

Sorry, I think you are still saying the same thing I am saying - perhaps I did not express myself very well. Before the Gravettian, nothing much changes in Europe as far as stone technologies are concerned for an amazing 12,000 to 15,000 years, while art and music where present and flourishing. My point is that the societies had to be quite peculiar from a modern viewpoint to behave like that, and then (as you say) explode in broader innovation after the juncture (to be interrupted again by the LGM).

onur said...

My point is that the societies had to be quite peculiar from a modern viewpoint to behave like that


Maybe there was less population density and less martial stress before the Gravettian.

Maju said...

I'd say that art also evolves through time. Before Gravettian, and I'd dare say Solutrean, you see very little and rather low quality mural art in the Franco-Cantabrian area (its main center). Art keeps evolving and reaches its apogee in the Magdalenian period.

I agree that the flute is quite impressive and that it suggests very early beginnings for European UP artistic expression (along with other items) but I would not reach from there to conclusions like a very early artistic "golden age" either based only on that. The whole picture strongly suggests an evolution and enrichment along time, possibly associated to technological changes (so probably cultural "revolutions" were polifacetic, as you can also see in more recent history).

eurologist said...

Maybe there was less population density and less martial stress before the Gravettian.


Not to beat a dead horse here, but a low density population grows exponentially until something limits it. And the Aurignacian evidence seems to be that people had ample of time, and at least sufficient food. In addition, low easy food supply would have been a strong motivator for change in how to acquire it.

I know I tend to over-speculate on these things, but perhaps the relatively young society and lack of risk-avoidance played a role.

Today, we are incredibly aware of risk avoidance, and instill this onto our kids and youth every breath they take. And we know that without constant admonitions, rules, and regulations they'd literally kill themselves.

So, perhaps in societies in which the average person is barely a teenager, and people over 25 become scarce, there is the tendency for young ones to die out of foolishness, carelessness, due to showing off, or improper training in hunting. And too few old ones to make them listen - and even the old ones are used to kids dying early, anyway, and may not have ever have experienced a positive effect of risk-avoidance "coaching."

The entire configuration changes dramatically once the age structure changes, and such a change feeds back on itself in a positive way (--> better survival --> more "older" people --> better training and supervision of risk avoidance).

Suddenly, growth may indeed or more clearly visible be limited by easy food supply, forcing a change in methods and therefore tools.