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Prehistoric music

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Prehistoric music

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In the history of music, prehistoric music (previously called primitive music) is all music produced in preliterate cultures (prehistory), beginning somewhere in very late geological history. Prehistoric music is followed by ancient music in most of Europe (1500 BCE) and later musics in subsequent European-influenced areas, but still exists in isolated areas.

Prehistoric music thus technically includes much of the world's music before European expansion and domination, for example, traditional Native American music of preliterate tribes and Australian Aboriginal music. However, it is more common to call the "prehistoric" music of non-European continents, especially that which still survives, as folk, indigenous or traditional music.


Origin of music

The origin of music likely stems from natural sounds and rhythms: the human heartbeat, the songs of birds, the rustling of wind through trees, the thunder and sound of rain, the dripping of water in a cave, the crackle of a burning fire and the sounds of waves breaking on a beach or bubbles in a brook. Man-made music echoes these soundscapes using patterns, repetition and tonality.

Aside from the bird song, music is not entirely the field of humankind. Monkeys have been witnessed to beat on hollow logs. Although this might serve some purpose of territorialism, it suggests a degree of creativity and seems to incorporate a call and response dialogue. See: zoomusicology.

It is most likely that the first musical instrument was the human voice itself, which can make a vast array of sounds, from singing, humming and whistling (more musical forms) through to clicking, coughing and yawning (less musical).

Most likely the first instruments were percussion instruments, the clapping of hands, stones hit together, or other things that are useful to create rhythm. E.g., see external link below on the "Stages in the Evolution of Music."

Music can be theoretically traced to prior to the Oldowan era of the Paleolithic age, the anthropological and archeological designation that suggests when stone tools first began to be used by hominids. The noises produced by work such as pounding seed and roots into meal is a likely source of rhythm created by early humans.

Prehistoric music varies greatly in style, function, general relation to culture, and complexity. The Timbila music of the Chopi is considered one of the most complex preliterate musics.

One published theory involved in the acoustic influences on the origin of music, originally published in 1958, is called the trio theory, claiming that influence from the most audible overtones of the three most nearly universal intervals (found across time & cultures, namely, a tone's octave, 4th and 5th), when their overtones are placed within the range of that octave, will evolve into the most widespread of scales: the pentatonic, the diatonic major & minor (depending how many of the audible overtones are so placed). The unequal audibile strengths of the overtones determine over time the role & power of each note in a scale (tonic, dominant or subdominant) -- i.e., tonality and tonal scales.

Oldest known song

The world's oldest known song (Assyrian cuneiform artefacts) is 4,000 years old inscribed into a clay tablet. It is diatonic, and is the oldest example of harmony, similar to English gymel. It can be heard at Evidence of Harmony in Ancient Music.

The oldest flutes

The oldest flute found is believed to be the so-called Neanderthal flute that was dug up in Slovenia in 1995 in the cave Divje Babe I (Idrijca Valley, Western Slovenia) by the Slovenian paleontologist Dr. Ivan Turk of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU). It is estimated to be about 45,000 years old and was found in the fifth mousterian level (middle paleolithic). The flute was made of a hollow bear femur and has four holes, two of which are intact and two of which are incomplete, all four in a straight alignment, with approximately equal diameters. It is broken and can not be played anymore, but as is, it can be blown and produce musical sounds. These sounds have been documented by Turk, et al, who discovered the artifact.

There remains plenty of place for speculation about its origin until the conclusive evidence is found. On the basis of experiments, it is easier to demonstrate the hypothesis of an artificial (human) than a natural (carnivore) origin of the holes. The holes in a flute are aligned in a spacing that is consistent with that required to produce the diatonic scale. The spacings between the holes in this "Dive Babe" flute are not equal, but nearly perfectly match the spacings of four holes that would be found on a modern version of a simple "minor scale" flute. If the original bone were long enough (as was suggested by 3 different museum paleontologists based on the bone's width-to-length ratio usual in a juvenile cave bear femur), it could produce the diatonic scale notes closely in tune. (See "Neanderthal Flute", in the links below for more details.)

No animal has teeth spaced in this fashion and animals normally turn bones as they gnaw on them making carnivore-induced, aligned holes less likely as an explanation for the flutes appearance. The odds for such an appearance to have occurred by chance bites have been [calculated] and are only one in millions. See: Evidence of the bone being a flute.

However, at the time at which it was made, neither the technology of working bones nor the necessary artistic (symbolic) behaviour are supposed to have been developed, although weak signals exist for both, the number of which is gradually increasing with new finds. The Neanderthal was perhaps intellectually closer to modern humans than has previously been accepted.

Ancient Chinese flutes

In 1999 several flutes were found in Jiahu in Henan Province, China. They date to about 9,000 BC. They have between 5 and 8 holes each and were made from a hollow bone of a bird, the red-crowned crane. At the time of the discovery, one was found to be still playable. The bone flute plays both the five or seven-notes scale of Xia Zhi and six-notes scale of Qing Shang of the ancient Chinese musical system. Nearly complete information on these ancient flutes is on-line at: Ancient Chinese Flutes and also in the proceedings of a 2000 conference in Germany of music archaeologists. See: The Archaeology of Sound.

Cycladic culture (Crete)

In the Aegean sea (eastern Mediterranean Sea), north of Crete lies a group of small islands known as the Cyclades (Κυκλαδες). On one of these, the island of Keros (Κερος), two marble statues from the late Neolithic culture called Early Cycladic culture (2900 BC-2000 BC) were discovered together in a single grave in the 19th century. They depict a standing double flute player and a sitting musician playing a triangular-shaped lyre or harp. The harpist is approximately 23 cm (nine inches) high and dates to around 2700-2500 BC. He expresses concentration and intense feelings and tilts his head up to the light. The meaning of these and many other figures is not known; perhaps they were used to ward off evil spirits or had religious significance or served as toys or depicted figures from mythology.

The discovery of this and similar pieces (they are very simplified and abstract in form) in the late 19th century had considerable influence on the sculpture of the early 20th century, for example on that by modernists such as Picasso and Modigliani.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Ellen Hickmann, Anne D. Kilmer and Ricardo Eichmann, (ed.) Studies in Music Archaeology III, 2001, VML Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH., Germany ISBN 3896466402
  • Wallin, Nils, Bjorn Merker, and Steven Brown, eds., The Origins of Music, (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., 2000). ISBN 0262232065. Compilation of essays.
  • Engel, Carl, The Music of the Most Ancient Nations, Wm. Reeves, 1929.
  • Fink, Bob, On the Origin of Music, Greenwich, 2005. ISBN 0912424141. [1] [2]
  • Nettl, Bruno (1956). Music in Primitive Culture. Harvard University Press.
  • Sachs, Curt, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West, W.W. Norton, 1943.
  • Sachs, Curt, The Wellsprings of Music, McGraw-Hill, 1965.
  • Smith, Hermann, The World's Earliest Music, Wm. Reeves, 1904.

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