Archeologists said yesterday that they had unearthed the oldest musical instruments ever found – several flutes that inhabitants of southwestern Germany laboriously carved from bone and ivory at least 35,000 years ago.
Just a few feet away from a bone flute, researchers discovered one of the oldest examples of figurative art – the sculpture of a woman carved from mammoth ivory, a find announced earlier this year. Excavations have also unearthed an array of other art, including carvings of mammoths, cave lions, and mythic half-animal, half-human figures.
A culture rich in figurative art, sophisticated adornments, and music does not directly result in better hunting or more successful reproduction, but music in particular might have had an indirect effect, providing better social ties or improving communication, according to Conard.
This thinking appears to be backwards: music helped humans evolve into what we are today, so we could create symphonies, phone lines, and Facebook. No, I think that we created music because we were further evolved 40,000 years ago than many of us like to believe, and have had much better success in formulating societies even despite having to fight for survival more often in those earlier times.
Either way, the fact remains that the further back we dig, the more creepy our human past becomes to us moderns: we didn’t just evolve from block-headed monkeys into the iPhone users we are today, with a little Leave It To Beaver-esque 1950s society tucked neatly between our past and modern eras. There were societies of hunter-gatherers who could make art, play music, and do everything we do today, except they lived in a much more harsh and reality-driven world. Finding things like this in the context of modern society makes us think about our lineage in a backward fashion instead of owning up to the fact that maybe what we call “progress” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.