Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oldest Musical Instrument in the World?

This summer, I had the great fortune to teach in the UNO Innsbruck program for six weeks! This allowed me to do some traveling on a few of the weekends. One of my favorite places visited was Ljubljana, Slovenia. One of the things to do there is to visit the two complexes that make up the Narod Muzej Slovenje, or National Museum of Slovenia. Part of why I chose to visit Ljubljana was to see what is being touted as "the oldest musical instrument in the world"!

Narod Muzej Slovenje in Ljubljana

Now, I have several links in this blog post referencing this instrument because there is debate as to whether or not it is truly the earliest instrument and questions concerning whether or not it is actually 55,000 years old. Yes, I did type that. Amazing isn't it?! Some sources say 43,000, but many others are in the mid 50's.

The museum itself has several collections worth viewing. It was unnecessarily hot inside on every floor so while I did spend an hour and a half there, that was all I could muster before I wilted completely. It was 99 degrees outside that day. The gift shop is excellent, offering replicas of the instrument, music played on replicas, and many other items. For those interested in archeological museums, this is an excellent place to visit.
The Divje Babe flute - 55,000 years old
The Divje Babe flute is 55,000 years old and was made by carving a cave bear femur. Discovered 1995-97, it is known also as the Neanderthal Flute. It was found near the Idrija region at the Divje Babe archeological site. There is debate as to whether or not it is also the first example of a diatonic scale use.

The flute has two holes preserved, but evidence you can see of two other holes. The pattern that is assumed to continue for most of the length of the bone. It was a juvenile bear so the bone was not that long. Was this diatonic scale an accident? Did they really have a "system" of sorts at that time or was it sheer luck and a pleasing sound to the maker of the instrument?

Here is a site with some great info on the diatonic scale theory 
Some argued that the instrument was not an instrument at all, but a naturally-occurring pattern of holes from bites by other carnivores. Later, that theory was contradicted with research saying that the holes could in no way be a natural phenomenon.

Make sure to see the video played below and info via YouTube

Interesting LINKS



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YouTube Video and all INFO below uploaded by Primoz Jakopin

VIDEO LINK to Divje Babe flute being played

Quote - "Short film, full title is Playing the Neanderthal flute of Divje babe, is authored by Sašo Niskač, music is performed by Ljuben Dimkaroski, scientific adviser is Dr. Ivan Turk, archaeologist. Extraordinary find from 1995 in Divje babe cave site, western Slovenia, it is most comprehensively described in the paper at, was met with great enthousiasm on one side and with great skepticism on the other side of the scientific audience, for details see Only in 2009 the dilemma if the holes in the bone were accidental or purpose-made, was finally resolved. Ljuben Dimkaroski, member of the Ljubljana Opera Orchestra for 35 years (trumpet), was given a clay replica of the flute by the curator of Slovenian National Museum on occasion of Ljuben's exhibition "Image in Stone". In his dreams, about a year later, he got a clue of how to play this prehistoric instrument. The result you can see and hear by yourself, or live, performed on a concert, at

The movie was published here by P. Jakopin on behalf of Jožek Košir (Jozek Kosir) - with permission of the authors.

P.S. A remark on the music played in the film:

A potpourri of fragments from compositions of various authors has been selected, to show the capabilities of the instrument, tonal range, staccato, legato, glissando ...

1. Fragment from Adagio in G Minor, Tomas Albinioni
2. Free improvisation, mocking animal voices, at the end the presentation of simultaneous sounding of two tones
3. Ode to Joy, 9th Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven
4. Slovenian (Prekmurje region) etno song Vsi so venci vejli
5. Slovenian (Koroška region) etno song Rož, Podjuna, Zila
6. Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi
7. Bolero, Maurice Ravel
8. From the new world, Antonin Dvořák

Current flute related events: Exhibition Homo Sapiens - La grande storia della diversità umana in Museo delle Scienze Via Calepina, 1, Trento, Italy, from Sep 20, 2012 to January 13, 2013, more on the site"

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