Researchers have discovered 12,000-year-old musical instruments and they sound like birds singing.
Although the prehistoric site of Eynan-Mallaha in northern Israel has been thoroughly examined since 1955, it still holds some surprises, scientists said.
Seven prehistoric wind instruments known as flutes, recently identified by a Franco-Israeli team, are the subject of an article published on 9 June in Nature Scientific Reports.
The Natufians, the Near Eastern civilization that occupied a village on the site between 13,000 and 9,700 BC, are thought to have used them for hunting, music or to communicate with the birds themselves.
“Through technological, use-wear, taphonomic, experimental and acoustical analysis, we demonstrate that these objects were intentionally manufactured more than 12,000 years ago to produce a range of sounds similar to raptor calls and whose purposes could be at the crossroads of communication, attracting hunting prey and music-making,” the study said.
The study says discovery of these aerophones, a class of musical instruments in which a vibrating mass of air produces the initial sound, is extremely rare; in fact, they are the first to be discovered in the Near East.
The “flutes,” made from the bones of a small waterfowl, produce a sound similar to certain birds of prey -thought to be Eurasian sparrowhawk and common kestrel – when air is blown into them.
Smaller bones would have been deliberately selected in order to obtain the high-pitched sound needed to imitate particular raptors.
“The choice of bones used to make these instruments was no accident – larger birds, with bigger bones that produce deeper sounds, have also been found at the site. Indeed, it is clear that the Natufians attributed birds with a special symbolic value, as attested by the many ornaments made of talons found at Eynan-Mallaha. The village, located on the shores of Lake Hula, was home to this civilization throughout its 3,000 years of existence,” the study said.
“It is therefore of vital importance in revealing the practices and habits of a culture at the crossroads between mobile and sedentary lifestyles, and the transition from a predatory economy to agriculture,” the study said.
The discovery of the rare prehistoric sound instruments was carried out by an international team of archaeologists, archaeozoologists and ethnomusicologists led by Laurent Davin (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and CNRS) and José-Miguel Tejero (University of Vienna, Austria and University of Barcelona, Spain).
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