Hear a Recently-Discovered 12,000-Year-Old Flute That Musically Mimics the Sound of Raptor Calls

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve fea­tured ancient wind instru­ments going back 9,000, 18,000, even 43,000 years. Just this month, archae­o­log­i­cal research has just added a new item to this ven­er­a­ble line­up: a set of 12,000-year-old flutes made from the bones of birds. “The instru­ments are among the old­est in the world and, accord­ing to the researchers, rep­re­sent the first to be found in the Lev­ant, the region that fos­tered the first stages of the Neolith­ic Rev­o­lu­tion approx­i­mate­ly 12,000 years ago,” writes Dis­cov­er’s Sam Wal­ters. They’re cre­ations of the Natu­fi­an civ­i­liza­tion, which “bridged the dif­fer­ence between the for­ag­ing of the Pale­olith­ic peri­od and the agri­cul­ture of the Neolith­ic,” and which was “the first to adopt a seden­tary lifestyle in the Lev­ant.”

The bones were unearthed in Eynan-Mal­la­ha, which is part of mod­ern-day north­ern Israel’s Hula Val­ley. It was “dur­ing a recent exam­i­na­tion of the arti­facts,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Tere­sa Nowakows­ki, that “sci­en­tists noticed that sev­en had strange fea­tures — like fin­ger holes and mouth­pieces — that would have allowed them to func­tion as musi­cal instru­ments.”

You can read in detail about the dis­cov­ery and study of these ancient instru­ments in the arti­cle pub­lished ear­li­er this month in Sci­en­tif­ic Reports. Nowakows­ki quotes its co-author Tal Sim­mons as say­ing that “the sound they pro­duce is very sim­i­lar to that of two spe­cif­ic birds of prey that were hunt­ed by the peo­ple liv­ing at the site where they were dis­cov­ered, name­ly the kestrel and the spar­rowhawk.”

Only the most bird-ori­ent­ed among us could eas­i­ly imag­ine what that sounds like. But they’d sure­ly also be inter­est­ed to hear the Natu­fi­an flute itself, and how close­ly it, in fact, mim­ics those calls. The video above offers about a minute of the sound of a repli­ca, the cre­ation of which would have involved a con­sid­er­able amount of small-detail work, giv­en the tiny size of the bird bones from which the orig­i­nals were craft­ed. “Though there were plen­ty of big­ger bird bones pre­served at the site, which would have been bet­ter for turn­ing into instru­ments as well as for play­ing, the Natu­fi­ans specif­i­cal­ly select­ed small­er bones that pro­duced a screechy sound sim­i­lar to a bird of prey,” writes Wal­ters. They thus cre­at­ed a use­ful hunt­ing tool — but they also opened to their civ­i­liza­tion a whole new dimen­sion of music.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear a 9,000 Year Old Flute — the World’s Old­est Playable Instru­ment — Get Played Again

Cor­nell Launch­es Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Ani­mal Sounds, with Record­ings Going Back to 1929

Hear the Sound Of Endan­gered Birds Get Turned Into Elec­tron­ic Music

Hear a Pre­his­toric Conch Shell Musi­cal Instru­ment Played for the First Time in 18,000 Years

Google Uses Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence to Map Thou­sands of Bird Sounds Into an Inter­ac­tive Visu­al­iza­tion

Hear the World’s Old­est Instru­ment, the “Nean­derthal Flute,” Dat­ing Back Over 43,000 Years

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Art Collier says:

    Inter­est­ing! But we “know” these sound like rap­tor calls…how, again?

  • AR says:

    “Rap­tor” as in bird of prey, the kestrel & spar­rowhawk men­tioned. It prob­a­bly could’ve made oth­er sounds, but we can com­pare the sounds to the liv­ing ani­mals. (I’m one of those peo­ple irked at Juras­sic Park for mak­ing “rap­tor” syn­ony­mous with “veloci­rap­tor” and not the orig­i­nal mean­ing…)

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