Rocking out the stone age

Now for those of you who don’t know me I have two big passions in life. Bushcraft and ‘Primitive’ living skills and Music. So it was inevitable really at some point they would collide and I would delve into the sea of Prehistoric music and the whole new world of instruments, melodies sounds it provides.

 This blog is dedicated to the flutes of the stone age and some of the interesting observations I have made about the history of these instruments.

A good place to start is with the oldest suggested flute ever found, which was found in a cave in Slovenia in 1997. It is reported to be c.43,000 years old and is made from a juvenile cave bear femur. This flute, the “Divje Babe flute”(named after the region of Slovenia it was found in), is only suggested as the oldest flute because there is still debate amongst archaeologist today as to whether this bone is actually a flute or if it is simply a bone with conveniently placed holes that were made by some animal or other natural means.

 Photot 1 - Divije Babe Flute

Divje Babe Flute on Display at the National Museum of Slovenia.

Personally I have made a replica of this find and found that it plays a great scale and you can get some lovely tunes out of it so in my mind there is no doubt it is a flute and through personal experience of making bone flutes it is almost impossible  to punch round holes in to bone without the bone splitting and as the holes are perfectly aligned I find it very hard to believe that these could have been made by an animal chewing on the bone but I may yet be proved wrong. Whether this bone is a flute or not will probably never be answered as the bone is so old and fragile it is not playable.

 Here is a link of a replica of this Divje Babe flute being played.

 However there have been confirmed finds of flutes in Germany spanning back 35,000 years and are made from the wing bone of a vulture as well as mammoth tusk , which are pretty much intact, meaning we are pretty easily able to recreate these flutes giving us a superb idea of what music could have been played at the time and proves that we as the human race had developed an intricate means of playing and composing music by this point.

 Photo 2 Germany finds

Hohle Fels flutes

(courtesy of

 Interestingly with this flute the finger holes which play each note are arranged into a pentatonic scale which is a scale we still use today meaning theoretically that the music that was played 35,000 years ago could still be being played today.

 Here is a link to the these flutes being played

As can be seen in both the examples above which are considered the oldest flutes discovered  both these finds are made from bone meaning they have not disintegrated and rotted away as other natural materials would have done- such as wood for example which would be a much easier to work with . This in conjuncture with the fact that both of these flutes, as well as many others, indicate that our ancestors knowledge of how to make complex instruments was already very high bringing me to the conclusion that our ancestors had being making and playing musical instruments for some time before hand. There is of course no concrete evidence for this however in my mind through the work I have done with bone and recreating and making bone flutes this understanding of how to work bone and how to make a flute is extremely difficult to get right.

 Photo 3 Joes bone flutes

It took me several years of experimentation and studying to finally make a working bone flute to a good playable standard and this was with examples available for me to examine and in depth understanding of how flutes work and as well of modern tools and equipment. To make such instrument with stone tools is much much harder a requires an even greater control and understanding for the material they were working.  I feel that these finds are proof that we as a species by this point had developed a highly advanced culture and way of thinking . It has also been suggested that with the development of music it helped us to form closer groups and meant a higher level of socialising which in turn would mean we would have led to increased communication,  facilitating further development of language and cognitive thinking.

Joe Philbin


Turk, Ivan (2003). “Neanderthal flute”. Archived from the original on 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2006-12-30.

BBC news 25 June 2009

“Earliest music instruments found”. BBC News. May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.

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