Germany may be birthplace of European music and art

May 29, 2012 By Charlotte Dormer
Germany may be birthplace of European music and art
Perforated teeth and ornaments from the Aurignacian site of Geißenklösterle.

The remains of the world's oldest musical instruments and human figurines suggest that music and artistic depictions of the human form may have first developed in Germany around 40,000 years ago, say researchers.

This is two to three earlier than previously thought.

Scientists need an accurate timeline of events in Europe to understand the development of human culture.

They get this by carbon-dating objects from . But before this study, there were large variations in the carbon dates from Europe's many stone-age sites.

Now, analysis at the Oxford has used new techniques to remove contamination from the samples, producing more accurate results. The team's findings suggest that the Swabian Jura of southwest Germany was a key site in the development of modern in Europe.

Bird bone flute from the Geißenklösterle

"We started using improved techniques back in 2001, and we noticed something very interesting," explains Professor Tom Higham from the University of Oxford, lead author of a paper published in the . "When we re-dated objects, the results tended to be a lot older than we previously thought, and this is because we removed contaminants more successfully."

"So we applied the same methods to sites with evidence for the earliest , sites where the ages you measure are critically important. We found that the dates are much more consistent – the new dating work has made sense of the sites."

Most scholars think that the transition from a Neanderthal-dominated Europe to one populated by modern humans happened 35,000 to 45,000 years ago. Scientists call this the Aurignacian period, when modern humans become widespread all over Europe. Archaeologists have found evidence for more developed artistic expression around this time, rather than just decorative patterns. What scientists don't know is how this spread of people and ideas happened. The findings in Germany help provide an answer.

While modern humans were developing art, music and mythology in the Swabia, parts of central and Western Europe were still populated by Neanderthals. The researchers think that the early humans moved into the Swabian Jura along the Danube corridor, before moving into Italy and France later, which explains why the Swabian artifacts are a little bit older than those from other areas.

"The Danube corridor idea was first proposed around ten years ago. It suggests that people moved along this river corridor at an early date. It's a good idea because people need to be near sources of water,' Higham says. 'There are several early sites along the Danube River which support this idea."

The artifacts found in the German sites include the oldest representation of the human body that has ever been discovered. Professor Nicholas Conard from the University of Tubingen, who was also involved in the new analysis, found the Venus of Hohle Fels in 2008. It was sculpted out of a wooly mammoth tusk. Also found in the mountain caves were fragments of the oldest bone flutes yet unearthed. These instruments were and painstakingly put together over three years.

'When you get people making these types of objects, it tells us a lot about cognitive ability and also the potential for early forms of spirituality and perhaps religion,' Higham says. 'We see very interesting artefacts like the lion men, which were figurines made half-human, half-lion.'

"The flutes have been reconstructed and played and the music has been recorded. They sound like flutes - they really can be played. The people who made these artifacts were not just anatomically but behaviorally similar to us."

Both the flutes and the Venus were once parts of a living creature; this means they can be carbon-dated. Carbon dating involves measuring the amount of the heavy form of carbon, carbon-14, present in tiny samples from the artefacts. Carbon-14 is taken up during the lives of plants, and passed to animals that eat them, but once the plant is dead, that carbon breaks down and isn't replaced. Therefore older bones have less carbon-14, letting us determine their age.

Explore further: Earliest musical instruments in Europe 40,000 years ago

More information: Thomas Higham, et al., Testing models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle. Journal of Human Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.03.003

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1 / 5 (1) May 29, 2012
One could point out that the carbon-14 date tells us the age of the mammoth, not when the mammoth tusk was carved. It could be that the early humans were carving materials they found melting out of glaciers, material that was already thousands of years old.
not rated yet May 29, 2012
IMO these ancient Germans were all Neanderthals and they were finished with suntanned immigrants from North Africa during latest global warming period. These Neanderthals were intelligent and big brained, as they needed their intelligence for planning of survival during cold winter period. But they lived in diaspora inside of isolated caves and so they couldn't compete the invasive species, who lived in large communities.

This history just repeats by now in certain extent.
1 / 5 (1) May 29, 2012
It occurs to me that the Australian Aboriginals were depicting human forms earlier than those in Europe and that Australian Aboriginal remains dating to around 60 thousand years ago have recently been found that do not differ significantly from modern aboriginals. The remains being H.S Sapiens and not H.S Neanderthalensis. Could it be possible that the out of Africa theory is flawed ?
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2012
Could it be possible that the out of Africa theory is flawed ?


Why? Because it deals not with Neanderthals or ancient H. sapiens but with australopithecines and early species of the genus Homo (like habilis, ergaster or erectus). They are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay older than any cave paintings in Australia (by the factor of 10 at least). So nope, out-of-Africa still stands.
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2012
One could point out that the carbon-14 date tells us the age of the mammoth, not when the mammoth tusk was carved.

One could point out that human remains found in the same site are of the same age as the animal bone carvings.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2012
Could it be possible that the out of Africa theory is flawed ?

No, I think that according to the genetic studies the general picture emerging is as follows. Modern humans were out of Africa and into Arabia/India around 70 - 80 tya, made it to Australia/Asia around 60 tya and across to Europe around 40 - 50 tya.
There was apparently also an earlier migration into Europe, by another route, but they did not make it. We got our revenge on them Neanderthals though, just needed some couple to thousands of years to hone our technology.

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