Category Archives: Origins of music

Music and prehistoric cave art

Lascaux Cave

A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited Lascaux Cave, a well-known Paleolithic cave in southwestern France.  Many of you have seen illustrations like the one below –  one of about 600 cave paintings at Lascaux with another 1400 or so engravings dating to somewhere between 17,000 and 15,000 BCE.

Lascaux Cave painting, France

Actually one cannot enter the real Lascaux Cave, which was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979.  Discovered in 1940, it was opened to the public in 1948, but the 1200 visitors/day produced carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and contaminants that began to visibly damage the paintings.  So it was closed to the public in 1963.  The only people now allowed in the original cave are technicians/scientists who monitor the preservation of the site.

One can visit Lascaux II, opened in 1983, an exact replica of three of the halls of the cave.  Or you can choose Lascaux IV, a high-tech digital, multimedia site that opened in 2016.  We chose Lascaux II – wanting a more “authentic” experience. Continue reading

How old is music?

Early Music

When musicians or music lovers talk about early music, we’re usually talking about Renaissance music, so roughly between 1400 – 1650, if you extend into the early Baroque.  So for us, early music goes back a few hundred years.  If you speak to an archaeologist, however, early music takes on a totally different meaning, extending back tens of thousands of years.

Bone flute from Hohle Fels archaeological site
Conard, et al. Nature (2009), doi:10.1038/nature08169

Archaeologists have found evidence of cultural and artistic innovations including cave paintings, small human and animal figures, and bone and ivory flutes dating to about 40,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic era, about the time that early humans first arrived in Europe.

As difficult as it may be to imagine, stone age humans were playing the flute!

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