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2 June 2012
Prehistoric flutes date to 42,000 years ago

Scientists have identified what they believe are the world's oldest known musical instruments, based on new dating for animal bones excavated in the same archaeological layers as the musical instruments and early art, at Geisenklosterle Cave in the Swabian Jura of southern Germany.
     Flutes made from bird bones and mammoth ivory were excavated at the key site, believed to have been occupied by some of first modern humans to arrive in Europe.
     The researchers suggest that the Aurignacian, a culture linked with early modern humans and dating to the Upper Palaeolithic period, began at the site between 42,000 and 43,000 years ago.
     According to these findings, the artefacts from the CaveĀ are 2,000 to 3,000 years older than previously thought, and the earliest for the Aurignacian, pre-dating equivalent sites from Italy, France, England and other regions, indicating that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase around 39,000 to 40,000 years ago. Previously, researchers had argued that modern humans initially migrated up the Danube immediately after this event.
     "High-resolution dating of this kind is essential for establishing a reliable chronology for testing ideas to help explain the expansion of modern humans into Europe, and the processes that led to the wide range of cultural innovations, including the advent of figurative art and music," said lead author Professor Tom Higham, of Oxford University.
     "These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago," added Professor Nick Conard, of Tubingen University, who was excavator at the site. "Geisenklosterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments. The new dates prove the great antiquity of the Aurignacian in Swabia."
     The results are important for considering the relationship between early modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe. Despite a major effort to identify archaeological signatures of interaction between Neanderthals and modern humans in this region, researchers have yet to identify indications of any cultural contact or interbreeding in this part of Europe.

Edited from USA Today (24 May 2012), Sci-News.com (25 May 2012)

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