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Neanderthal Flute

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Posted on Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mooreds



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@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mooreds

You can see the flute played here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3agcq7fSGC8


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by QuercusMax | Parent

This video is all about the flute music without all the interesting sciency stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHy9FOblt7Y


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by jasonwatkinspdx | Parent

Wow, that is a much more capable and versatile instrument than I expecting for something so simple. 2.5 octave range and a scale/tuning that sounds pleasant even to modern ears.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by dhosek

The thing that's impressive to me is that it has the holes for controlling pitch. The reconstruction offers some guesses at the temperament, but I imagine there's a lot of room for error. Presumably there are other instruments even older (it's likely that the very first instruments would be percussion instruments which, even should they survive, would be difficult to identify as musical instruments tens of thousands of years later.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by QuercusMax | Parent

The first percussion instruments were almost certainly either rocks or sticks banged together. The sticks were presumably used just like claves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claves).


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by gabrielsroka | Parent

>Probably the earliest flyswatters were
nothing more than some sort of striking surface
attached to the end of a long stick.



@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bdhcuidbebe | Parent

In Africa there are several giant boulders that when stroken plays a certain tune. While undateable, they show markings from a very long time of use.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by dheera | Parent

>lot of room for error

I mean, when you have all day and nothing to do sitting around in your cave, you can make a lot of flutes and hopefully one will be error-free.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by dhosek | Parent

I was thinking not about the original flute, but the recreation of it from a fragmentary artifact.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by asdff

One would think a blade of grass would be even older than the flute. Kids sometimes pick up grass whistling intuitively but its also something that is culturally passed down over the years at the playground, and might be quite old.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by jacurtis | Parent

After watching the video, it seems that they are distinguishing it by the fact that it was a man-made object created for the specific purpose of producing music. This of course still allows for other pre-existing natural objects to be used for music playing.

For example, I assume prior to creating a flute, human ancestors likely batted rocks together or beat rocks against hollow logs to create a beat or variants of music.

But the significance of this finding is that it was purpose-made for creating music, which is interesting since it hints at the cultural impact that music may have played 60,000+ years ago.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by ilyt | Parent

Or just hitting something with a stick to drum


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by rpastuszak | Parent

That reminds me, tangentially, of The Song of the Reed, by Rumi.


(think of the 3 meanings of reed: an instrument turning human breath (life) into music, a writing tool (qalam), and of course a living creature itself)

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by piwi

Some people think it is a hyena who punctured the bone, and that it is not from neanderthal.

Search Divje Babe in https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.140...

It is amazing to see how much work is spent collecting pieces of evidence.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mandmandam | Parent

That might seem plausible after reading just this article, but if you look at this video [0] you can see the way it was reconstructed, and hear it being played.

It strikes me as unnecessarily dismissive to insist that hyenas gnawed a perfect pentatonic flute; that really does just seem like some kind of weird jealousy... Especially when we have other examples of pentatonic bone flutes tens of thousands of years old.

0 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHy9FOblt7Y


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by crazygringo | Parent

It's not dismissive or jealousy at all -- it's wanting it to make sure this is based on actual evidence rather than wishful thinking, because that's how science works.

And when you see the image of the partial flute, it is entirely non-obvious that it's a musical instrument. It's a small piece of bone broken on both ends with two holes in it, and a hint of a third hole. There are lots of natural objects that look man-made but aren't, and canine species absolutely can produce similar-looking tooth puncture holes in the middle of bones. And when that happens enough, it's not hard to imagine 3 holes that could be used musically just through coincidence.

So it really does require a lot of analysis to show that this is actually a man-made instrument, and it's important to do that rather than just make unwarranted assumptions.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tao3300 | Parent

Whatever the doubtful counterpart to wishful thinking is, a great example would be conjuring up the perfect hyena to make the perfect bite without otherwise crushing the bone.

"Withering skepticism" maybe?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by crazygringo | Parent

Take a look at the photos of known puncture holes in bones in the research paper in the root comment.

Lots of perfect holes without otherwise crushing the bone. You seem to be taking something ordinary and treating it as extraordinary (I don't know why you're inventing the requirement of a "perfect hyena", lots of hyena will do). I'll copy for you some of the intro text of the paper (emphasis mine):

>Ice Age spotted hyenas of Europe occupied mainly cave entrances as dens... but went deeper for scavenging into cave bear dens... In most of those dens, about 20% of adult to 80% of bear cub remains have large carnivore damage. Hyenas left bones in repeating similar tooth mark and crush damage stages, demonstrating a butchering/bone cracking strategy. The femora of subadult cave bears are intermediate in damage patterns, compared to the adult ones, which were fully crushed to pieces. Hyenas produced round-oval puncture marks in cub femora only by the bone-crushing premolar teeth of both upper and lower jaw. The punctures/tooth impact marks are often present on both sides of the shaft of cave bear cub femora and are simply a result of non-breakage of the slightly calcified shaft compacta. All stages of femur puncturing to crushing are demonstrated herein, especially on a large cave bear population from a German cave bear den.

Suddenly seems pretty plausible, no? Again, I'm not saying that's what happened, but that science does need to disprove that's what happened in a particular case. Just regular common-sense skepticism is all that's needed here. Unless you think all of science is "withering"?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tao3300 | Parent

>The research was sponsored by the Private Research Institute PaleoLogic which runs the 'European Ice Age spotted hyena project'.

And they concluded that it was...


a hyena!!


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by teruakohatu | Parent

It looks to be a reasonable article published in a reasonable journal not some crank or pay-to-play journal. More likely, a hyena expert saw the flute and thought "that looks exactly like a bone eaten by a hyena" and did some research.

Most archeology in my country is performed by private organizations. There is nothing suspicious about that.

I don't know who is right but a pile of badly made attempts at a flute would probably prove they were made by archaic humans, not a random hyena feast.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by crazygringo | Parent

Right. Because they would probably be experts with the most knowledge to analyze that. And science is made of competing claims, with different researchers often presenting the best case for opposing arguments.

Do you think that the entire scientific process of collecting evidence on both sides of questions is a conspiracy or something?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tao3300 | Parent

You think I said that? Wow.

No, I just think experts in one specialty tend to have those goggles on for everything.

The funny part is that if Neanderthals were manufacturing flutes, I'd be willing to bet they figured it out by noticing some bones bit by animals had interesting resonances.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by crazygringo | Parent

Well I just couldn't figure out where your dismissal was coming from.

And I still can't -- we need experts to argue from their expert viewpoints. Everybody on earth has "goggles on". Which is why science is a group endeavor.

You seem to be immediately dismissing a scientific hypothesis by questioning motivation/objectivity, rather than actually engaging in good faith and being open to arguments. And that attitude is not a scientific one.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by fugalfervor | Parent

The corruption of Big Hyena knows no bounds


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tao3300 | Parent

Follow the trail of bit keyboards...


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by fugalfervor | Parent

>Suddenly seems pretty plausible, no?

Very plausible, but incomplete to my eye.

The holes, absence of crushing, etc. are one thing. The placement of the holes is what gives this away as the craft of an intelligent being: those holes encode a pentatonic scale. This is a configuration which is totally unremarkable when discussing human artifacts (the scale is present in nearly every human culture) but which is pretty unlikely to occur as a result of a random process (a very small subset of the possible inputs, and of the exact right size).

It is possible that this is a random object, so i present two possibilities to you:

1. This is an object created by neanderthals, according to the above, or

2. This is a random object, but the recognition of the pattern of holes representing a pentatonic scale is selection bias. Other similar objects were discarded but this one was taken because the pattern felt 'familiar'.

I don't have a good answer to 2, but it seems less likely to me. I am assuming that any similar object with perfectly round holes would have been taken and analyzed.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mandmandam | Parent

>It's a small piece of bone broken on both ends with two holes in it, and a hint of a third hole.

Did you watch the video? There are four holes, two complete and two very strongly hinted. Each in very precise positions, so as to make a flute that plays a large portion of modern rock music.

I don't have any problem with analysis being done, but the analysis makes no attempt to put such an absurd coincidence into perspective; neither mathematically, or historically.

It seems disingenuous, or at the very least strongly blinkered, to neglect to even mention the other flutes dated back tens of thousands of years, or the astronomical odds of a hyena biting a bone in such a way.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by piwi | Parent

Geisenklösterle Flutes of the same age according to carbon 14 look like a flute.

Once you know that, it is a little bit more difficult to be excited about speculations on the Divje Babe flute.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by 100k

Amazing, hearing it played sends chills down my spine.

It's not as old, but in Wernor Herzog's documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", an archeologist plays a 30,000 year old vulture bone flute. It even uses the pentatonic scale!

Some links about it:



@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ddol | Parent

The first link of Wulf Hein playing the Star-Spangled Banner on a 30,000 year old flute is incredible. To think that someone noodling on a flute could have produced that melody before dogs were domesticated is fascinating.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bloak | Parent

If the flute is designed for a pentatonic scale, why did he play a melody that isn't even heptatonic? He should have played a well-known pentatonic tune like "Auld Lang Syne"!

[The tune of the Spar-Spangled Banner uses all the notes of the major scale plus the fourth note sharpened by a semitone on the last syllables of "early" and "perilous". The unsharpened fourth note, an octive higher, is present on "air". (Yes, I did have to look up the lyrics, obviously.) Apparently the tune was taken from "The Anacreontic Song" (18th century), which did not have those accidentals.]

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by todd8

A friend's wrote a book on prehistoric flutes. Her Ph.D. dissertation was on the subject, [1]. Unfortunately, I believe that it is out of print.

[1] Lana Neal, The Earliest Instrument: Ritual Power and Fertility Magic of the Flute in Upper Paleolithic Culture, https://www.amazon.com/Earliest-Instrument-Fertility-Paleoli...

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by masfuerte

The Slovenian national museum has an English language leaflet describing the museum's top ten attractions. I particularly wanted to see the Neanderthal flute and an impressive silver torc. The torc (and a couple of other highlighted items) were missing. So before I left I asked about them. The staff did not give a fuck. It was a strange experience.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by chompychop

How do they definitively know it was used as a musical instrument? It could just have been something punched out on the bone just for fun, by the Neanderthal. Sure, you can make music out of it, but that's not scientific evidence to conclude that someone did use it to make music, is it?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

Try punching random holes - and see if it creates a musical scale as we know it (go for a pentatonic scale). It's very unlikely that the placement and sizes (placement also affect sizes) of the holes will create that scale, even if you perform the random experiment again and again and again.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by karaterobot

>This discovery confirms that the Neanderthals were, like us, fully developed spiritual beings capable of sophisticated artistic expression.

That feels a bit like an unsupported claim to me. It may be so, I am not saying Neanderthals weren't spiritual beings capable of sophisticated artistic expression. I am just wondering how you would confidently conclude that from the existence of (a thing which is probably) a flute.

In a slightly larger sense, it feels like a lot of claims about Neanderthals do this same thing: the presence of a specific artifact becomes not only evidence of technological sophistication, but proof of some deeper philosophical or spiritual consequence. I'm fascinated by early hominin, and try to follow this stuff as a lay person. So much interesting progress in such a short time. But, I'm not comfortable with the level of speculation I frequently see among communicators in this field, personally.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by beezlebroxxxxxx | Parent

The connection between artistic expression and "spiritual beings" is also odd. What if they were just playing some songs around a fire? What if the flutes were for emulating bird songs? Maybe it was a kid's toy. The presence of artistic expression need not require some complex or even simplistic spiritualism, only a kind of basic aesthetics, a desire for creative expression.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mastazi | Parent

I get your point but

>Maybe it was a kid's toy.

We shouldn't be dismissive of kid's toys, I think they fully qualify as indicators of intelligence. Fish fry or newborn reptiles don't play flutes.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tagbert | Parent

I think the objection is equating "intelligent" with "spiritual being". Those are not necessarily coincident.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mastazi | Parent

Yes, true, my bad. I have a history of not understanding what the word "spiritual" means (I think I've read every possible explanation over the years, I still don't get it), so I usually tend to find a proxy for it when I'm reasoning about something. In this case I was using "intelligent" as my proxy.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Mistletoe | Parent

Aren't they, though? I'll know AI is intelligent when it worries about being turned off.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ben_w | Parent

How will we know if it is actually worrying, or if it's just regurgitating our own worries like a VHS tape of the famous Bladerunner or Hamlet soliloquies?

When it can provide its own answer, it will have already been smart for a long time.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Mistletoe | Parent

How do we know a person is not regurgitating worries?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ben_w | Parent

Assumptions, and often incorrect ones at that.

I keep finding the Münchhausen Trilemma popping up whenever the possibilities of AI consciousness are discussed, more specifically I keep seeing circular and dogmatic arguments against it.

I only see "cogito ergo sum" or "there is a thought now" when I myself bring up those quotes.

Having an A-level in philosophy at mere grade E, I'm almost certainly less qualified than ChatGPT to discuss it, of course...


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by analog31 | Parent

Indeed, I think I'm an intelligent person, but I also don't think I'm spiritual in any way that I'm aware of.

And I can play the flute.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by etothepii | Parent

I'm a committed atheist but find it hard to think of a better word than spiritual to describe the wonder I have about the universe. I find the scientific explanations more beautiful than the religious but that doesn't make them less spiritual. I doubt the decision to learn to play the flute was based in logic.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by webnrrd2k | Parent

I'm certain that it was made by some 20-ish year old Jethro Tull-like neanderthal cranking out Aqalung, just trying to get with the ladies.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by dr_dshiv | Parent

Can we please operationalize "spiritual?" It's obviously important.

Can something that is not conscious be spiritual? I doubt it. So sentience is at least required. Can something that is not empathic be spiritual? I doubt it. So, I'd propose that "spiritual" at least requires consciousness and empathy. Then it seems to require some other transcendent aspect which often involves the dissolution of the ego. So, it requires an ego to be dissolved.

Any objections?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mellavora | Parent

Yes, a few objections, or at least requests for clarification.

You propose that necessary conditions for "spiritual" are "consciousness" and "empathy". These phenomenon are regularly seen in trees, and also in most motive forms of multicellular life.

You then propose that sufficient conditions would additionally include existence of an ego AND its dissolution.

If ego is the thing that gets in the way of spiritual, then wouldn't beings that don't have ego be inherently spiritual?

And for those beings that have an ego, given that the ego is made from the non-ego, how do you distinguish between when they are spiritual and when not? I've found that my self is often less aware of my spiritual aspect than I would like, but I'm also very seldom aware of how I coordinate my heartbeat or how I breath or digest food.

How do I know that I'm not enlightened? And just because I "know" this, does it make it true? Does it matter more if I believe in God or if God believes in me? What is this barrier between me and enlightenment? isn't the ego just as much an expression of "spirit" as the heartbeat?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by dr_dshiv | Parent

>You propose that necessary conditions for "spiritual" are "consciousness" and "empathy". These phenomenon are regularly seen in trees, and also in most motive forms of multicellular life.

Empathic trees? I want to know more.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by nomel | Parent

>I am just wondering how you would confidently conclude that from the existence of (a thing which is probably) a flute.

It's not just the flute. It's the burial rituals, the art, the tools, the anatomy, the crossbreeding, etc. See any introduction to the topic.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by cubefox | Parent

So instead of "This discovery confirms" the author should have written "This discovery is one of many pieces of evidence for".


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bdhcuidbebe | Parent

The find is relevant here, the text less so. Read about the find in another text if you dont like this writer.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by cubefox | Parent

Next time.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mandmandam | Parent

Let's assume the thing is a flute. It's been reconstructed and plays beautifully. The odds of a hyena making such a thing with its teeth are in silly territory; and we have other similar flutes that are nearly as old (relatively speaking).

Given that, the fact that they use a scale so resonant with humans that it is still in very popular use sixty thousand years later - that's incredible. I felt the article drastically undersold the awesomeness of that, showing far too much restraint.

Have you seen the video where Bobby McFerrin leads a whole crowd to sync perfectly with each other, without rehearsal, thanks to the pentatonic scale [0]? That's spiritual stuff; it's 'sophisticated artistic expression'. That's the same scale that was (almost certainly) intentionally used to make this flute.

Here's a great comment from that video:

>What Bobby is doing here is transcendent. He gives an audience four notes of a five note scale, with no context, with no explanation, and the audience is intuitively able to grasp what the 5th note of the scale is. Not only that, the audience is able to intuitively understand the way the scale continues, above and below the range they were given. The fact that Bobby says this works with audience anywhere in the world speaks to a deep cross-cultural piece of the human experience and how we understand music and ourselves. Something is happening at the fundamental level here and I think it's lost on some people how truly profound this is.

Neanderthals intentionally crafted sophisticated flutes to play this precise scale 60,000 years ago? That's profound alright.

0 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne6tB2KiZuk


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by mastazi | Parent

>That's spiritual stuff;

It's also physics, those notes sound good next to each other because mathematically their frequencies are resonant (simple relationships like 3/2 or 5/4 as opposed to, say, 729/512 of a tritone).

I'm not saying that it's not awesome that this scale is still in use (it is) or that hearing that flute doesn't make me emotional (it does), just noting that there is a reason why.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mandmandam | Parent

That's true, and it's important.

Still, it seems very likely those Neanderthals 60k years ago were playing music for all the same reasons we do, even making efforts to understand the principles enough to make clever instruments.

Maybe the Neanderthals even knew about such ratios. It's discoverable by playing with string, or even plants.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by WalterBright | Parent

If you just blow into a tube, it will resonate and make a sound. It's not far from that to notice that different length tubes make different notes. Eventually someone found that blowing in a tube with a hole in the side will change the note if one blocks the hole with a finger.

By then, one is off and running with developing a workable flute.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by earleybird | Parent

Then someone discovers you can add a reed. Et voila, the woodwind section appears :-)

Alternate ending: "suddenly jazz appears"


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by williamcotton | Parent

There's a bit more to the story than just harmonic overtones.

If you stack fifths on top of each other you also get the major pentatonic scale, like going from noon to 4 o'clock on the circle of fifths.

If you keep going around you basically spell out the major scale, other than the sharp 4, and this is the foundation of Russell's Lydian chromatic scale.

The 5/3 ration of the fifth note (A in the C major pentatonic scale) is already evidence that there is some kind of stacked tonality.

So yes, it is still physics, but there is definitely a level of complexity above just simple ratios against a root note!

You can take the harmonic series farther up, specifically in the range between the 8th and 16th overtones, and get a scale that is very close to containing the major pentatonic, close to a C7#4, but it sounds a little off outside of equal temperament!


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by tptacek | Parent

It's an interesting question, right? Arguably, orcas also do musical expression.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by masswerk | Parent

There is a (now rather dated) theory of an hierarchy of arts, where music, being the most abstract and at the same time the most intimate and sensual (AKA spiritual) one taking the crown. If you adhere to this idea to some degree, there may be no way around this kind of conclusion, short of abandoning said theory, since music is supposed to encompass the virtues of all the other arts.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ben_w | Parent

This would imply wolves, dogs, whales and songbirds are all spiritual.

I don't know either way, and would be willing to accept either way, but that's the implication I see.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bloak | Parent

There is very little similarity between music and the sounds made by a songbird.

According to an article I read about a scientific paper on the subject, I think, birdsong doesn't have particular notes belonging to a particular scale in the way that nearly all human music does. I can actually hear a cuckoo as I type this ... perhaps it's trying to present a counter-argument? ... but I'm not convinced! and I'm not going to record it and measure the frequencies of the two "notes" ... however, I've just looked it up and apparently the interval starts off as roughly a minor third in the spring and gradually changes into roughly a perfect fourth in the summer! You can incorporate that sound into music -- it's been done lots of times -- but the sound itself isn't music and most music isn't imitative like that.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mellavora | Parent

This is a strange and limiting definition of music, and rather unfair to the birds.

Jokingly, when I sing, it is also hard to tie the sounds coming out of my mouth to particular notes....

seriously, there are birds who sing in a choir/band; the lead singer is the only one who gets laid, his friends "only" help him to sound his best and to give social support to his efforts to impress. Point is a very dedicated effort for a group of animals to coordinate soundmaking as a form of social communication to arouse emotion and bonding. How is this not music?

I've seen people write code in languages that don't even have types, like most computer languages do. Obviously they are not programming. That's right, hard-coding in assembler or even strict binary/hex is as far from programming as you can get!


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bloak | Parent

I suppose it's a bit like the question of whether non-human animals have "language": they do, in a sense, but it's rather different from human language.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

To me music is not spiritual (whatever that means - I'll have to copy analog31's comment: "I think I'm an intelligent person, but I also don't think I'm spiritual in any way that I'm aware of.
And I can play the flute.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by xkcd1963

"fully developed spiritual beings capable of sophisticated artistic expression" confused shrugging

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by cubefox

I found this striking:

>The flute from Divje babe is the only one that was definitely made by Neanderthals. It is about 20,000 years older than other known flutes, made by anatomically modern humans.

Does this suggest that for some period of history, the Neanderthals were "technologically" ahead of Homo sapiens? At least in terms of flutes?


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by ldjkfkdsjnv | Parent

Its not spoken about openly, but there is a decent correlation between % of DNA from neanderthals and IQ


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by cubefox | Parent

Do you have some reference? (I know that they had a larger brain. But if they were more intelligent, why did they go extinct?)


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by BurningFrog | Parent

I'm 2.3% Neanderthal.

We're not extinct. We merged.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by ldjkfkdsjnv | Parent

Another aspect, is theres no telling how much that 2.3% matters. Not all strands of DNA have the same effect on how someone turns out


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by davidmnoll | Parent

2.3% doesn't reflect what i'd call a merge..


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by vanattab | Parent

So do you only merge your code when you've edited more then 50% of your lines?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by fugalfervor | Parent

Unless neanderthals were 2.3% of the population at the time they merged.

or, the populations were 50/50 and the humans were like, "let's bone the hottest 95.6% of neanderthals and kill the rest"


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by cubefox | Parent

Other way round


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by fugalfervor | Parent

I originally wrote the joke the other way round. When I switched the order I forgot to change the number back.

That's all for today's episode of Inside the Joke


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by mellavora | Parent

Who approved the PR?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by nobodyandproud | Parent

Over specialization perhaps. High calorie diet and starvation? Harder to cope in a warming environment?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by stephc_int13 | Parent

They are not really exctinct, they are part of our ancestry, at least in most of Europe and those who migrated from Europe. One possibility is that when Sapiens met Neanderthal they simply outnumbered them because they came from more fertile/hospitable lands. Like Google acquiring an older but smaller company.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by paulpauper | Parent

larger brain does not always mean smarter.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by nomel | Parent

I believe that all evidence points says that it helps.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by paulpauper | Parent

even people with hydrocephaly? Neanderthals , although similar to modern homo sapiens, are not the same.


@ Saturday, May 27th 2023 by nomel | Parent

I don't think it's useful to consider a rare (0.2%) neurological disorder in this discussion, unless you're suggesting that Neanderthals had voids in their brain matter. This would be an extraordinary claim, being unlike any other primate or mammal.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by precompute | Parent

For humans, bigger is almost always better.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by smolder | Parent

Off the top of my head, disease, in-fighting, or some other missing adaptation that made them less able to flourish and reproduce in as-high numbers.


@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by lifeisstillgood | Parent

Sir, we cannot allow a Flute Craft gap to develop.

I know this is astonishing, should be adjusting my world view on my own species ... but "no fighting in the WarRoom"


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by WalterBright | Parent

The age doesn't mean it was definitely made by Neandertals. It could have been acquired from other Homos.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Chris2048 | Parent

As I understand it, the ancient humanoid species had distinct ways of making tools, so maybe technique and tool mark would give away the maker?


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bdhcuidbebe | Parent

hard to argue "more technical", but at a similar level. they weaved clothes, spoke language, built dwelllings, made art and interbred with us. they are part of us to this day.

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by dkga

I cannot describe how I feel hearing the sounds and tunes coming out of that flute. To know I am experiencing music with that particular timbre fills my soul with awe that we have this link to the past.

And the affirmation that it is sufficient to play most classical music pieces means that its range includes the diatonic scale. Similarly amazing (in the literal sense) is that other wind instrument techniques are possible. I don't know if I am overhearing things but I noted the musician what harmonica folks call "bending".

@ Thursday, May 25th 2023 by crazygringo

Incredibly cool, and the video explains how they made a 3D scan of it in order to reconstruct a playable version with broken parts replaced.

Which seems like it would be the coolest thing ever to 3D print. I'd love to have this on my bookshelf.

Unfortunately, I can only find a primitive playable version that was recreated from an illustration [1], and the museum gift shop sells a 3D-printed version that is unrestored and therefore unplayable [2] -- though the museum shop page doesn't seem to load any content [3].

But 4:34 [4] in their video shows the detailed scanned version with restoration that is playable: "To this end, we made a 3D model of the replica in which Ljuben Dimkaroski added the missing pieces."

I wonder how I could get/print one of those...?

(I also wonder whether a 3D printed plastic one would sound any good... Another source [5] indicates the playable version is a clay replica.)

[1] https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:500840

[2] https://www.3d-solutions.si/en/neanderthal-flute/

[3] https://www.nms.si/en/museum-shop/replicas

[4] https://youtu.be/3agcq7fSGC8?t=274

[5] https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/flute/w...


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bradleysmith | Parent

fantastic stuff. I'm fiddling with screenshots from your [4] link video to try to pull 3D model from multi-image 3d model build tools. I too would very much like a print of their playable reconstruction on my desk. Please update if you get to a usable STL.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by beezlewax | Parent

Ask them


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

For a flute it'll make minimal difference if it's plastic or clay or bone. You can find endless discussions on this on flute- and whistle forums, but it all boils down to the fact that the sound is produced by a standing wave of air inside a tube, and not by any vibrations of the actual tube material (i.e. totally different from string instruments). Though the material can make a difference when it comes to the actual part where you blow across an edge (very minimal differences are audible - and working with different and more or less difficult materials affect this).
(I own flutes and whistles made of plastic or other synthetic materials, various types of metal, and wood)


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by butterNaN | Parent

Isn't the main difference due to the component of the sound that is travelling through the material?

Just my hypothesis. I have compared flutes for the same key but with different woods (and steel).


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

There's always some discussions about this, but the general consensus is that there's no really audible part travelling through the material. It's a bit cumbersome, but try covering a flute in wool or some other material, and only let the holes (and fipple, for whistles) uncovered. You won't normally hear any difference in sound quality. But extremely small changes to the fipple and edge of a whistle or recorder will change the sound.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by marci | Parent

I think this artist demonstrate your point:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R35N43h8M5U (The acoustic of PVC pipes - Nicolas Bras)


@ Saturday, May 27th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

That video just got more and more interesting throughout! I own a few PVC whistles and I know how to make them, but this guy showed much more. And yes, demonstrated how the material doesn't matter for the actual sound.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by minroot

Holy shit!

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by dorfsmay

Does this fuel the debate on Neanderthal being able to speak?

Could a people unable to speak be able to develop such an instrument with the right distances between holes etc..? That would mean a single individual not able to gain from previous generations' knowledge.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by bdhcuidbebe | Parent

>That would mean a single individual not able to gain from previous generations' knowledge.

Surely not. Skills can be passed on by imitation and observation.

That being said, I'm certain they had language too.

Sign language, whistles and probably spoken language too since they probably co-develop.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by smolder | Parent

Orcas have been teaching each other to sink boats, from what I was reading. They don't speak, but they do communicate.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by precompute | Parent

Neanderthals lived in small groups in sub-zero temps. They had to co-ordinate or they'd die. So I'd say, yeah, they could indeed speak and communicate in complex manners, much like us, or maybe even better.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ChrisMarshallNY

That's a cool story.

I find this passage interesting:

> fully developed spiritual beings


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

That's one part of the article I don't particularly like - what's a "spiritual being"? I consider myself fully human, but there's nothing in my psyche which I would consider "spiritual" - what does it even mean? I play music, I sing, I read literature, I write, I create, and more. Nothing of that is something I feel the need for using the word "spiritual" to describe.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by ChrisMarshallNY | Parent

Yeah. I thought it was an odd turn of phrase, for a scientific article.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by d--b

The level of certainty that is conveyed by the article is staggering...

Whatever they say we can't know for sure that this was made to be blown into, and if it was made to be blown into, we definitely can't say it was made to make music.

Just a little "scientists believe" and "neanderthals may" here and there would make this a lot more palatable.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by fugalfervor | Parent

do some research on the pentatonic scale. it's an intelligent abstraction encoded in the placement of holes on this object.

if one were to randomly put four holes in a bone of the same size, the chances that they would produce a pentatonic scale are pretty rare.

if this were found in a human settlement, no one would bat an eye: the pentatonic scale has appeared in almost every human culture.

with that in mind, this object is far more likely to have been created by an intelligent being than to have been composed of random punctures.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by dghughes

Ancient peoples would have sucked the marrow out of bones. I can imagine someone doing so and there is a crack or hole in the center of the bone they are holding. As they suck out the last remaining marrow and try to get more but all they do is pull air through the hole. A noise is heard and they realize they can make a sound.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by casenmgreen

Site blocks Tor.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by kbos87

So interesting! I do have to say, the way they state some of the specifics as though they are settled facts is a little off putting, like -

"the size and the position of the holes cannot be accidental - they were made with the intention of musical expression."

Cannot? Were? I'm sorry, but there's no way to actually deduce that from the available information.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by Tor3 | Parent

Because the size and the position of the holes create a scale which can be used for playing music. Via links shown in an earlier comment it's explained that it is a diatonic scale, but the point is really that if the holes had different sizes and the positions were different, even slightly, then you couldn't play music as we know it (see the video where Albinoni's Adagio is played on a replica flute).

That's why it can be stated that it wasn't accidental.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by MilStdJunkie

Oof. It's an important find (AKA the Divje Babe flute[1]), but it's very hard to stay tuned in when they utter the phrase "spiritual being". That's quite a thing to say. How do you measure spirits these days? With wheels, rods, or clocks?

So far as intelligent goes, the Neanderthals might have well been smarter than the first Sapiens to cross their path, but were disadvantaged by other factors, like a potentially ruinous birth rate, more restricted diet, and poorer (or more restricted) eyesight.

One interesting idea I've heard . . for a story . . imagine if sapiens spread HGT-style via a disease, that was transmitted by violence and rape. Like a bio-zombie, or the "Crossed" virus from "Crossed +100" (and which was invented by Garth Ennis, I guess). From the neanderthal perspective, it would have felt like Planet Zombie afterwards - and then they have to make their way among these terrifying new humanoids. The horror of the future. It would probably be more interesting moved to the present day, with a speciating change propagating via what looks like zombie bites, but which actually reflects the early stages of a new species, some weird more-fully-eusocial variant of homo adapted for extreme density.

[1] Which was really, really controversial in its day, and to some extent still is.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by jaredhallen | Parent

I've had a similar theory for a long time, admittedly based on basically absolutely nothing. Looking back at history, say WWII, what would have happened if the Axis had won? History is written by the victors, as they say. I have to imagine that things would be perceived differently today, had that happened. Something along the lines of the Heroic Axis defeating the Evil Allies. Having observed the way Homo Sapiens often behave, I've long wondered if we were the Axis, and the Neanderthals the Allies, so to speak.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by MilStdJunkie | Parent

Alternate History is a guilty pleasure of mine too! Except, it shouldn't really be called guilty, should it? Because those "alternates" give us insight into maybe - possibly - isolating crucial factors in human history. I'm not convinced there was any possible scenario where the Axis could win post December 1941, after the retreat from Moscow and the Americans entry.

Particularly the latter. I remain convinced that America was the deciding factor in the conflict, and this should not be surprising looking at the raw production numbers. Soviet production levels shocked Hitler into outright disbelief[1], but even those numbers - numbers literally extracted from the blood of the Soviet nation - were half of American peacetime productive capacity. That's not even counting resource production differential (oil, coal, steel, etc), where the USA had more capacity than the rest of the Allies combined - several times over.

Dulles and many others wished fervently for a mid-1945 pivot versus the Red Army, to meet them as far east as possible, "Allies" be damned (Stalin had never dealt with the Western allies in good faith, and honestly, Churchill didn't rush to shake hands either). It's hard to see how a March/April pivot could happen without an integration of the Wehrmacht into the Western Allies. How this would have gone down, it's probably not very pretty. We were already the number one employer of former Reich employees by that time, and going further would . . well, let's say that "A Night in the Garden" was a movie that got made for a reason. In some ways, the Reich's ideology was made more for America than it was for Germany, for a nation that still had yet a giant wild of "savages" to conquer and dehumanize.

[1] https://erenow.net/ww/stalingrad/15.php


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by precompute | Parent

Well... sure, but if you're really pushing the admixture hypothesis you'd necessarily need to assume that the species that lived in a more densely populated group was likely less individualistic. Add the Neanderthals' survival in sub-zero temps and you can easily claim that the Neanderthals weren't just "a little smarter" than the homo sapiens, they were likely doing 2 or 3 SDs on them, easily. Plus, them being acclimated to the cold would give them much better, not worse, eyesight, because they'd have to cross large distances and actually be able to make out things in the ice, and would also need good peripheral vision for protection from really bright light. "ruinous birth rate" doesn't really make sense... unless you compare the population of the neanderthals to that of the sapiens. By all accounts, the neanderthals lived in small groups, often not even over 30 individuals. They also likely had a very varied diet, or at least a very rich diet, because you can't be expected to be dumb and undernourished if you're eking out centuries in a cave because the weather outside is cold enough to freeze your bones.

As for the last paragraph... agreed. Even the most skillful warriors can be overtaken by a huge wave. Nothing to fight.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by tsojer | Parent

I'd say that "Spiritual" here stands for the human spirit, rather than some kind religious spirituality. Spirit being everything surpassing mere cognitive actions needed for survival.

The finding (like many other) strongly implies that neanderthals had the ability of abstract thought and creative urges. This should in no way be surprising since neanderthals appear at a quite late and developed stage of the human evolution.

Neanderthals are generally quite an interesting topic, but equally interesting is the approach and prejudice of the scientific community towards them throughout the history. Research on neanderthals has been littered with logical fallacies by researchers who were absolute experts in their field, but refused the idea of neanderthals being a human subspecies or a remotely intelligent or capable one, just because it didn't fit in their personal or religious worldview.

Upon discovery of neanderthals, leading anatomists at the time were like "yup, that's just a disease ridden regular human". More skeletons crop up and it's obvious that they have similar traits all across the world, and they are still going "Yup, so many disease ridden humans, how strange". Only after a whole cave in Vindia was found with more than 100 individuals that the scientific community half-unwillingly conceded that oh well there might have been another (sub)species parallel to homo sapiens. And that opened another can of worms and it's been decades of trying to prove how Neanderthals were intellectually inferior to Homo Sapiens.

Those fallacies still exist today, and happen to very prominent scientists. I recently read a scientific articles from the late nineties by two anatomists who reconstructed the vocal tract of neanderthals to see if they had acoustic ability for spoken language. While their wok on the reconstruction was impeccable, their conclusion was that neanderthals couldn't have evolved spoken language as they could only produce two consonants. Which is a ridiculous conclusion seeing that there are languages today that use two consonants.

So that's why people get worked up about a neanderthals having a flute and why we still have people saying a hyena made it in the comment section. It's totally wild to me how people can be prejudiced and kind of racist toward someone from tens of thousands of years ago.


@ Saturday, May 27th 2023 by MilStdJunkie | Parent

I got ya. I have no problem seeing fellow Homo as, well, human, and probably with unique insight of their own.

Things have gotten a little weird lately, as the Nazis have started identifying with Neanderthals. Or vice versa - or something like that. The notion that Erectus evolved in-situ into the various species of Homo - a resurrection of the Candelabra model - isn't quite as fringe as it used to be, and it might have some nuggets of truth. Unfortunately, the Candelabra model is just hot stew on toast for the Hitler-inclined, and then that overflows into everything else, making open discussions of human origins a mexican standoff. Anthropologists, meanwhile, approach anything hinting of the model like it's made of plutonium, and rightfully so, but this just cranks up the conspiracist vapors to 11. "See the Human Origins THEY'VE BEEN HIDING FROM YOU!" and then someone shows you an x-ray of some dude's leg with an extra bone in it.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by nologic01

There is this debate about why the music instinct was developed in humans at all, its role in developing social structures and the interplay with linguistic developmemt.

Such discoveries push further back the point where primate brains developed advanced musical capability: As it is less likely that Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens developed this independently, it was something they got from their common ancestor.

I wonder if the two branches of humanity ever jammed together in the forests of Europe. We share some DNA but otherwise the narrative is that it wasnt a harmonious coexistence.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by layer8 | Parent

Well, humans by themselves aren't a harmonious coexistence either. That doesn't prevent them from jamming together. Since a lot of humans also have some Neanderthal DNA in them, we know they did more together than just jamming.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by thedriver

Some of the comments here seem absolutely ridiculous. What is the probability that a perfect flute just happened by accident and survived until this day?

For whatever reason, a lot of people have this fixation that humans were somehow significantly less intelligent all the way until the modern industrial era. Based on what I've read, human brain hasn't significantly changed in tens of thousands of years. People in the stone age didn't have significantly lower cognitive abilities.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by kumarvvr | Parent

To me this signifies the very core of society itself. Someone made this flute, meaning, they had the time to imagine and experiment. Meaning, they played a different role than hunters or foragers of food.

This was probably a gift to someone (concept of love / family) or some higher ups (strata / class in society)

And, the reason only a very small sample was found was because someone had the idea, tools and time to probably fashion one out of wood, as it may be more easily workable.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by taopai | Parent

This idea is mind-blowing. Imagine humans surviving in nature without any of the technology we have today. There must have been a wealth of 'oral tradition' regarding plants, places, animals, and social norms. People must have been highly physically active, which naturally boosted their cognitive abilities. Social interaction must have been intense and tightly connected to survival.

When I think about all this I feel thrilled and comforted. Sometimes, I wish my life didn't revolve solely around abstract tasks and concepts.


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by capableweb | Parent

>Sometimes, I wish my life didn't revolve solely around abstract tasks and concepts.

Unless you're socially insulated, your life doesn't really revolve solely around abstract tasks and concepts. You spend time with other humans, where you have a lot of non-abstract tasks and concepts. You go buy groceries, which is a physical activity, and so on. Maybe we're blind to it, but our worlds are still very much physical and non-abstract on a daily basis.

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by layer8

Video of the flute replica being played: https://youtu.be/eRUufCAFS50

@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by F2hP18Foam

Here's a video of the musician mentioned at the end of the article playing a reconstruction of the flute:


@ Friday, May 26th 2023 by given

You have really no clue who made it. It's just all speculation. Just as Dinosaurs are fake, Neanderthals are probably fake and the thousands/millions of years.

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