Listening in to 35,000-year-old music

Listening in to 35,000-year-old music

notes

Nature (460, p.663) has reported on the discovery of a 35,000-year-old flute in southern Germany, which demonstrates that the earliest modern human inhabitants of Europe had a sophisticated musical tradition. In evolutionary terms, this is not that long after the development of language, which is thought to have happened between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.

This set me thinking about what sort of tunes these early humans would have played and whether we would recognise them as music. Certainly there is a sense that certain intervals in Western music (the fifth, the fourth, the major third, for example) sound pleasant because of the mathematical relationships between the frequencies of their two notes.

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