Bone flutes dating back 12,000 years have been discovered that produce sounds similar to the cries of birds of prey

Ancient bone flutes, more than 12,000 years old, have been discovered by archaeologists in Israel. These instruments, made from the bones of the wings of small ducks, are strikingly similar to the sounds of birds of prey that were common in this region in the early Neolithic. A total of seven bone aerophones were found, one of which was whole, while the other six were shattered. Each flute was perforated with one to four finger holes, allowing whoever played it to control the tone.

The Natufians, the first people to adopt a settled lifestyle and establish an agricultural economy, settled the region between 13,000 and 9,700 B.C. It was at the site of Einan Mallah in northern Israel that ancient instruments were discovered in a layer of deposits associated with the Natufian archaeological culture.

The manufacture of the ancient flutes was deliberate and intended to reproduce a series of sounds similar to the cries of predators. The purposes for using these instruments may have been at the crossroads of communication, attracting hunted prey, and creating music. Through technological, operational, taphonomic, experimental and acoustic analysis, researchers have shown that these objects were intentionally made more than 12,000 years ago.

By creating replicas of the ancient instruments, the researchers noted that they emitted “three intense high frequencies” that mimicked the cries of the common kestrel and quail.

“The replicas made the same sounds that hunter-gatherers might have made 12,000 years ago,” Davin and Haliley said.

“Therefore, we believe that Eynan-Mallah aerophones were designed to reproduce the cries of the prized common kestrel and quail,” they wrote.

The researchers debate whether these flutes could have been used to lure birds into hunting distance. After briefly exploring this possibility, however, they conclude that such a tactic “would not have been effective enough.” Instead, they wonder “whether imitative bird cries were integrated into Natufian musical or dance practices.”

These ancient instruments are the earliest sounding devices ever found in the Levant. Older specimens have previously been found in Europe, including a 40,000-year-old set of bone and ivory flutes from southwestern Germany.

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