The Sound of (Ancient) Music

Yesterday archaeologists in Germany reported that they had found a five-hole bone flute that dates back 35,000 years. It’s one of a number of artistic and musical artifacts left for posterity by Homo sapiens.

I find it interesting that, by contrast, the Neanderthals, a close “relative” of Homo sapiens, and perhaps a competitor of our ancient ancestors, apparently left not a single trace of artistic or musical interest.

I don’t want to berate our Neaderthal next of kin; after all, history hasn’t been so kind to our nomadic cousins. Instead, it’s worth pondering the connection between Homo sapiens’ interest in art and music and their ability to flourish. Did this clash of perspectives with their ancient rivals present the classic “left vs right brain” battle for survival?

It’s easy to see why an interest in the arts could help build a sense of community. After all, who wants to sing alone around the campfire? And wouldn’t anyone be flattered to have a fellow meat-eater draw his portrait, even if it were done on the wall of a dark cave?

Such thoughts make me think twice before classifying art or music as “electives” within the “humanities.”


One thought on “The Sound of (Ancient) Music

  1. Not to nit-pick, but there IS some dispute about the Neanderthal assertion. There is a bone found in Slovenia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia) that appears to be a musical instrument AND that evidence suggests was created by Neanderthals. I would recommend the Wikipedia entry at for the links and sources it provides. Having said that (as a fine arts teacher for over 30 years), music and art have too many benefits to be relegated to the “elective” pile. Take a look at the root of the word “humanities” for a start. They are all about us and a unique window into our human spirit, our soul, and our intellect. They allow us to hold a mirror to ourselves and understand what we are about. Many things in this world divide us from one another. The arts are some of the few things that unite us. When I finish a performance with an ensemble and look around at how we have become a whole greater than the sum of our parts, I often realize that for a few moments, at least, we got it right.

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