Divje Babe Flute
The artefact as displayed in the museum
|Created||Late Pleistocene (43100 ± 700 BP)|
|Discovered||1995 near Cerkno, Slovenia|
|Present location||National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana|
The Divje Babe Flute is a cave bear femur pierced by spaced holes that was found in 1995 at the Divje Babe archeological park located near Cerkno in northwestern Slovenia. It has been suggested that it was made by Neanderthals as a form of musical instrument, its hole spacing and alignment leading to its being labeled a "Neanderthal flute". Slovenian archeologist Mitja Brodar, however, argues that it was made by Cro-Magnons as an element of Central European Aurignacian culture.
If it is a form of flute, it is most probably the world's oldest known musical instrument. Alternative hypotheses notwithstanding, the artifact remains on prominent public display as a flute in the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni Muzej Slovenije) in Ljubljana. The museum's visitor leaflet maintains that manufacture by Neanderthals "is reliably proven".
Site and similar findings in Slovenia
Divje Babe is the oldest known archaeological site in Slovenia. The site is the location of a horizontal cave, 45 metres (148 ft) long and up to 15 metres (49 ft) wide. It is located 230m above the Idrijca River, near Cerkno, and is accessible to visitors. Researchers working at this site have uncovered more than 600 archaeological finds in at least ten levels, including 20 hearths and the skeletal remains of cave bears, and have studied climate change during the pleistocene. According to the museum, the presumed flute has been associated with the "end of the middle Pleistocene" and the time of Neanderthals, about 55,000 years ago.
This is not the only such site in Slovenia. In the 1920s and 1930s, the archeologist Srečko Brodar discovered tens of bones with holes in another site, Potok Cave (Slovene: Potočka zijalka) in the Eastern Karavanke, but almost all of them were destroyed during Italian occupation of Ljubljana in World War II. The best known of them, still preserved, is a mandible of a cave bear with three holes in the mandibular canal.
Since World War II, specimens have also been found in Mokrica Cave (Slovene: Mokriška jama), Betal Rock Shelter (Betalov spodmol), and elsewhere. These bones are preserved today at the National History Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana, the capital. According to the archeologist, who discovered many of them, Mitja Brodar, bones with holes were never found in the Western Europe, and they have been dated only to the end of the Mousterian and the beginning of the Aurignacian. Such bones were discovered also elsewhere in Central Europe, but in a much lower number, and it is unlikely that cave bears would make such holes only in Central Europe and only in a specific period. That these bones are still not recognised by international research community, Mitja Brodar attributes to the fact that most of the bones were found on the territory of France and the Paleolithic is still considered to be the French domain, although not a single bone with holes have been found there. The only one ever discovered bone point with a hole has been discovered in Potok Cave. According to Brodar, such holes are an element of Central European Aurignacian. They have been ascribed to the Cro-Magnon, modern human. According to Brodar, the Divje Babe Flute is a product of modern human as well, but this has been disputed by other Slovene scholars.
In 1995, Ivan Turk found an approximately 43,100 year-old  juvenile cave bear femur at the Divje Babe site, near a Mousterian hearth. Because it has characteristics of a flute, he has called it a "Neanderthal flute". Whether it is actually a flute created by Neanderthals is a subject of debate. It is broken at both ends, and has two complete holes and what may be the incomplete remains of one hole on each end, meaning that the bone may have had four or more holes before being damaged. The bone fragment is the diaphysis of the left femur of a one to two year-old cave bear, and is 113.6 mm long. The maximum diameters of the two complete holes are 9.7 and 9.0 mm. The distance between the centers of the holes is 35 mm.
If the bone is a flute, it would be evidence of the existence of music 43,000 years ago. Thus Ivan Turk has asserted that whether the holes are of "artificial" (made by man) or "natural" (punctures from a carnivore bite) origin is the "crucial question."
The bone has become a noted attraction in National Museum of Slovenia, publicized on official Slovenian websites aired on TV with tunes played on a clay replica and is a source of pride for the country. In the West, paintings were made, models constructed, and musicians such as Biology Professor and flautist Jelle Atema have played them publicly.
Hole spacing and alignment
The probability that four randomly placed holes would appear in-line in a recognizable musical scale is on the order of a few in several million, was shown in the analysis made in 2000 by Canadian musicologist Bob Fink. Responding to the d'Enrico et al.'s carnivore-origin hypothesis, Turk (2005, 2006) pointed out that the features "common" between the carnivore-origin artifact and other chewed bones studied by D'Errico (see hole shape below) do not include the line-up of the holes.
There is also no evidence that the two holes could have been bitten at the same time. The tooth spans were checked by all taphonomists concerned to see if any animals could bite two or more such holes at once. No match could be found to any known animals. If a match had been found, it could have been cited as prima facie evidence that the holes were animal-made. This was noted by Turk, et al., in his monograph, and was also noted from the opposing hypothesis holders Nowell and Chase in their Current Anthropology article in the August–October 1998 issue. "Holes in the specimen", wrote Nowell, et al., "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."
Iain Morley, despite his holding the carnivore-origin hypothesis, in an additional observation to his November 2006 article observed that "(W)whilst the collections of cave bear bones examined by D'Errico et al. (1998), as well as those discussed by Turk et al. (2001), do show similar shaped and damaged holes...none of these occur in the diaphysis of a femur" (the thick part), as is found on the reputed flute (Morley 2006, 329).
Marcel Otte (director of the museum of Prehistoire, Universite de Liege, Belgium) pointed out in a Current Anthropology (April 2000) article, that there is a possible thumb-hole on the opposite side of the Divje Babe bone, which, making 5 holes, would perfectly fit a human hand.
Turk wrote in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology book The Origins of Music: "If this probability [of having lined-up holes looking like a flute] were greater (and of course it isn't), it is likely that there would have been more such finds, since...carnivores in cave dens were at least as active on bones, if not more so, than people in cave dwellings....".
D'Errico et al. made an analysis of the artifact in comparison to cave-bear bone accumulations where no hominid presence was known. They published photos of several bones with holes in them which had more or less circular holes similar to those found in the artifact, but they did not have a single bone coming even close to the linear alignment of Turk's holes. Ignoring the probability of line-up of the holes, D'Errico et al.'s interpretation was that it was possible for the holes to have been made by animal, and they wrongfully concluded that of the available options this was the most likely (sic!). D'Errico insisted on ignoring the probability of line-up of the holes, and even after having analyzed the artifact firsthand, claimed that "the presence of two or possibly three perforations on the suggested flute cannot therefore be considered as evidence of human manufacture, as this is a common feature in the studied sample."
Turk conducted laboratory experiments which pierced holes in fresh bear bones in the manner of carnivore punctures, and in every case, the bones split. Yet in the Divje Babe instance, the bone did not break, a fact not matching expectations of carnivore action, as Turk's results showed. Turk wrote, in his monograph and in his article in MIT's Origins of Music anthology, the bone shows no "counter-bites" that one would normally expect on the other side of the bone matching the immense pressure necessary for a bite to make the center holes.
Turk's 1997 monograph reported that the holes have similar diameters which would accommodate fingertips, and all are circular instead of oval (as carnivore bites often are). Furthermore, all are in the proper ratio of bore size to hole size found in most flutes, and the bone is the kind (femur) usually used for bone flutes.
An examination of the specimen using computed tomography was published in 2005 by Ivan Turk et al., in which he concluded that "the two partially preserved holes were formerly created before the damage...or before the indisputable intervention of a carnivore."
The National Museum of Slovenia argues that this evidence has "finally refuted hypotheses that the bone was perforated because of a bear bite". The manufacture by Neanderthals "is reliably proven" and its significance in the understanding of their capabilities and the development of music and speech is secure.
The issue of how much bone marrow remains in the artifact is important, because the making of flutes from bone usually includes removing the marrow.
Turk, et al. (in the monograph Moussterian Bone Flute, p. 160) wrote that "the marrow cavity is basically cleaned of spongiose. The colour of the marrow cavity does not differ from the colour of the external surface of the bone. So we may conclude that the marrow cavity was already open at the time.... Otherwise, it would be a darker colour than the surface of the bone, as we know from coloured marrow cavities of whole limb bones."
April Nowell stated in an interview that "at Turk's invitation, [Nowell] and Chase went to Slovenia last year... They came away even more skeptical that the bear bone had ever emitted music. For one thing, both ends had clearly been gnawed away by something, perhaps a wolf, seeking greasy marrow. The holes could have simply been perforated in the process by pointed canine or carnassial teeth, and their roundness could be due to natural damage after the bone was abandoned. The presence of marrow suggests that no one had bothered to hollow out the bone as if to create an end-blown flute. Says Nowell, '[Turk's] willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, whereas we're not.' "
Bob Fink claimed in his essay in 1997, that the bone's holes were "consistent with four notes of the diatonic scale" (do, re, mi, fa) based on the spacing of those four holes. The spacing of the holes on a modern diatonic flute (minor scale) are unique, and not evenly spaced. In essence, Fink said, they are like a simple fingerprint. The Divje Babe bone's holes matched those spacings very closely to a series of note-holes in a minor scale.
Nowell and Chase wrote in Studies In Music Archaeology III that the juvenile bear bone was too short to play those four holes in-tune to any diatonic series of tones and half-tones. (Fink had suggested there may have originally been a mouthpiece extension added to the bone before it was broken.)
- [Nowell] along with archeologist Philip Chase, had serious doubts as soon as they saw photos of the bone on the Internet.... The Divje Babe bone bears some resemblance to the dozens of younger, uncontested bone flutes from European Upper Paleolithic [UP] sites. But, says Nowell, these obvious flutes are longer, have more holes, and exhibit telltale tool marks left from their manufacture. No such marks occur on the bear bone. Fink proposed that the spacing of the flute's holes matches music's standard diatonic scale. ...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.....
In a 2011 article Matija Turk published the results of a collaboration with Ljuben Dimkaroski, an academic musician who had made replicas of the artefact. The authors argue that the instrument encompassed a range of two and a half octaves, which can be extended to three octaves by overblowing. Dimkaroski created over 30 wooden and bone replicas of the flute and experimented with them. The replicas were made from femurs of juvenile brown bears provided by Hunters Association of Slovenia, but also calf, goat, pig, roe and red deer bones. In the end he concentrated on playing a replica made on a femur of a juvenile cave bear from Divje babe I, to come as close as possible to the dimensions of the original.
- List of Neanderthal sites
- Prehistoric music
- Musical scale
- Gudi – 6000 BC Chinese bone flute
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- Yu, Edwin S.K.; Bonnie A.B. Blackwell, Ivan Turk, Joel I. B. Blickstein, Anne R. Skinner, and Mimi N. Divjak. (2001). "ESR Dating Human Cultural Evolution and Climatic Change During the Late Pleistocene at Divje Babe I, Slovenia". Poster session paper abstract. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Divje Babe flute.|
- John H. Lienhard (1997). "Very Early Music". The Engines of Our Ingenuity. Episode 1232. NPR. KUHF-FM Houston.
- Bower, B. (1998). "Doubts Aired over Neandertal Bone 'Flute'". Science News 153 (14): 215. doi:10.2307/4010441.
- Fink, Bob (1997). Neanderthal Flute. Greenwich. ISBN 0-912424-12-5. 
- Fink, Bob (2003). "Who made Neanderthal Flute? Humans or carnivores? Summary of Turk's evidence". Retrieved March 1, 2003.
- Lau, Beverly; Blackwell, Bonnie A. B.; Schwarcz, Henry P.; Turk, Ivan; Blickstein, Joel I. (1997). "Dating a flautist? Using ESR (electron spin resonance) in the Mousterian cave deposits at Divje Babe I, Slovenia". Geoarchaeology 12 (6): 507–36. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6548(199709)12:6<507::AID-GEA2>3.0.CO;2-2.
- "Dating a Flautist? Using ESR (Electron Spin Resonance) in the Mousterian Cave Deposits at Divje Babe I, Slovenia". Retrieved 2006-01-22.