|An ancient flute that experts say is the oldest|
known musical instrument.
Discovered in a cave in southern Germany, the flutes were likely fashioned 42,000 to 43,000 years ago, when early humans used them for religious ritual or recreation, experts say. Music may have also helped them maintain social networks as they survived dire cold in Europe and Neanderthals began to die off.
The find also confirms a theory that early humans moved up the Danube into central Europe before a very cold period about 39,000 or 40,000 years ago. Humans "were in central Europe at least 2,000 to 3,000 years before this climatic deterioration, when huge icebergs calved from ice sheets in the northern Atlantic and temperatures plummeted," says one professor. "The question is what effect this downturn might have had on the people in Europe at the time."
The finds, described in the Journal of Human Evolution, are from Geissenkloesterle Cave in the Swabian Jura region of southern Germany.
They show that the Aurignacian culture, a way of living linked with early modern humans, existed at the site between 42,000 and 43,000 years ago.
It suggests that some of the first "modern" humans to arrive in central Europe had a musical bent.
Professor Nick Conard, from Tubingen University in Germany, who took part in the excavation, said: "These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000 to 45,000 years ago.
"Geissenkloesterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments. The new dates prove the great antiquity of the Aurignacian in Swabia."
The results indicate that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase around 39,000-40,000 years ago.
Previously, experts had argued that modern humans only migrated up the Danube immediately after this event.
Professor Tom Higham, from Oxford University, who led the team that dated the bones, said: "Modern humans during the Aurignacian period were in central Europe at least 2000-3000 years before this climatic deterioration, when huge icebergs calved from ice sheets in the northern Atlantic and temperatures plummeted.
"The question is what effect this downturn might have had on the people in Europe at the time."