Saturday Art: The Oldest Known Bone Flute and the Venus of Hohle Fels UPDATED BELOW

June 16, 2012

Venus of Hohle Fels (photo: wikipedia / fair use)

Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tubingen in Germany led a team of archaeologists who discovered the oldest known flute in the Hohle Fels cave in the Ach Valley in Germany in September, 2008. He was the lead author of a study about the flute and other discoveries published in Nature in June, 2009.

The flute, which is approximately 35,000 years old and recovered in 12 pieces from an area approximately the size of a large dinner plate, was made out of the hollowed out wing bone of a giant vulture and measures nearly 22 centimetres (8.7 inches) long and 2.2 centimetres (one inch) in diameter. There are precise markings next to four of the five finger holes that likely were used to indicate where to place them. Two deep V-shaped notches are carved into the end that the musician blew into.

Marlowe Hood of AFP reported on June 24, 2009,

Fragments from three ivory flutes unearthed at the same site, along with nearby instruments not quite as old, suggest that humans who had then only recently migrated to the Upper Danube enjoyed a rich musical culture.

And a stunning female figurine from the same period found only a couple paces from the bone flute, reported last month, points to a broader artistic flowering.

Indeed, the area within the cave that yielded the flutes reveals a veritable artist’s atelier.

There is debris from the flint tools used to chip the instruments; traces of worked bone and ivory from mammoth, horse, reindeer and bear; and burnt bone, one of the ingredients — along with minerals, charcoal, blood and animal fats — used by Stone Age humans for cave painting.

“We can now conclude that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys,” commented Nicholas Conard, a professor at the University of Tubingen and lead author of the study.

Go here to see the fabulous flute.

K. Kris Hirst of Guide describes the female figurine, which is known as the Venus of Hohle Fels:

The Venus of Hohle Fels has no head, like many other examples, but it does have a (partial) ring where the head should be, suggesting that it was suspended from a cord. The figure measures 59.7 x 34.6 x 31.3 mm, and it weighs 33.3 grams.

The figure is short and squat with a visible waist and large breasts and buttocks. Deeply incised lines cover the abdomen to the pubic triangle. These incisions cover the back and, Conard believes, may represent clothing.

The legs are short, pointed and asymmetrical; the buttocks and genitals depicted in anatomically-correct detail.

Ivory working at Hohle Fels is abundantly in evidence, as it is at other sites belonging to the lower Aurignacian of this part of Germany, suggesting that figurine carving was a characteristic of Aurignacian people right from the beginning.

Go here to see views and photomicrographs of the Venus of Hohle Fels.

UPDATE: Jumpin’ Jiminy. Just came across this article in Past Horizons, Adventures in Archaeology and guess what. The bone flute and Venus of the Hohle-Fels are thousands of years older, dating back to 42,000 to 43,000 years ago, which predates a major period of glaciation that began around 40,000 years ago.

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