Quite why neolithic flutes should have attracted attention right now is open to question. Probably, the reconstruction of a 50,000 year old bone flute from Divje Bave, a cave in Slovenia, fortuitously coincided with the publication in Nature of acoustic work on some 9,000 year old flutes from Jiahu in China. Both involved actually being able to hear the sound of the flutes, and various people involved made interesting off-the-cuff statements which show that they were having fun. As a result, suddenly the BBC, American Public Radio and even Alexandra Witze of The Dallas Morning News showed an interest. The Jiahu flute finds date from 1980 and the acoustics were tested a few years later. The Divje Bave fragments have been controversial since the discovery was announced in 1996. The advent of reconstructions, however, makes things more accessible for most people. and to an extent what I was doing cutting up bits of pipe was simply an amateur version of using a real 50,000 year old bear bone or special moulding compounds with acoustic properties similar to bird bones. In any case, the following quote to the AAAS by Dr Jelle Atema of Boston university, caught the attention of a friend:
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/specials/washington_2000/newsid_649000/649296.stm> >Trying to remember if I'd mentioned it when I first heard it... >amusing musings quoted from the article: > But it would always be a mystery why > early humans first started making > music: > > One theory is that Neanderthal males > used music to charm women, he said. > "It's one of many hypotheses that I > entertain with pleasure. > >so, Andy, you can verify that this works, right?
Bear-Bone Flute Fragment from Divije Bave
...but, of course, it set me thinking again. And you'll know by now that there's always a problem when that happens. There'd been flutes dogging me from the start of the whole exercise. I'd followed the argument over the Divije Bave fragments since the beginning: they predate the oldest item which is positively confirmed as a flute, but certainly have me convinced. Battle lines appeared to have been drawn, but I couldn't fathom whether anyone was arguing that it was or wasn't a flute, or simply arguing about the scales it played.
The Jiahu Flutes - M282:20 is second from bottom
It's a trifle sad that coverage in the wake of the Nature article chose to imply (although they certainly didn't actually state it) that the discovery was recent, and also to play down the Chinese authors: Juzhong Zhang, Changsuin Wang and Zhaochen Kong. Clearly, either the Chinese were unavailable, or many people felt more comfortable interviewing Dr Garman Harbottle, who did admittedly come up with some memorable quotes. But, to set the context, Zhao Feng had described the flute along with other instruments for a UNESCO/IMC project in 1990. "The Jiahu bone flute was a sacrificial object. There are two flutes in one grave. The grave is a relic of the early Jiahu Culture (7737 +- 123 years before present by radio carbon date)."
I also reviewed the way people had re-worked their pages in the wake of the article on the Jiahu flutes, and discovered that several other people had added pieces, all of which were in some way based on the Nature article. At least I wasn't the only person for whom this was new. The pieces of PVC pipe, which had stared balefully at me for several months, were taken reverentially down from the shelf. I downloaded the picture of the flutes. There is but one, all others, including, I freely admit, this, are copies with different scaling, gamma correction and unsharp masking. (Visit the Nature article for the best copy, of course.) I measured. I posted...
...if I'm measuring from the JPEG correctly, the most stable note on the two largest flutes is eerily close to an octave of the the most common resonance at Portel, which _might_ imply not only the recognition of resonance as special, but a selection in favour of resonances around the B1-Bb1 (or B2-Bb2) mark.
I hadn't at that stage, seen the Jiahu resonance data, but the apparent capabilities of the flute were both spookily close to what was needed for the Dragon Dance tune and within an engineering approximation of what might work at the red spot.
At this point, I discovered that there was more to M282:20 than met the casual eye, something that might immediately catch the eye of a folk musician or instrument maker, but quite possibly no-one else. Zhao Feng wrote of M282:20 in 1990 (The Universe of Music):
"There is a small hole beside the seventh hole. The small hole was probably put there to adjust the pitch of the seventh hole."
Where do we want to go today?TM Well, I had a spreadsheet and a flute with a hole in it. Naturally, I wanted to go to a 9,000 year-old cave. It was becoming increasingly important to find out whodunnit.