Armenia

Where to See the Oldest Artifacts in the World

From a royal soccer ball to a very old book, see humanity’s history of innovation in ten amazing everyday objects

The earliest surviving photograph, taken in 1826 or 1827, titled View from the Window at Le Gras. (Wikipedia)
smithsonian.com

Oldest Instrument

(The world's oldest instrument, a bone flute, on display at National Museum of Slovenia. Credit: Flickr user Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

National Museum of SloveniaLjubljana, Slovenia

In 1995, a man exploring the Divje Babe cave in northwestern Slovenia came upon a tiny—but monumental—find: a portion of a juvenile cave bear's femur, pierced with what appeared to be handmade holes. Though broken on both ends, the bone also shows the remnants of two other holes, accounting for at least four holes, in total, on the original bone structure. Archeologists examined the bone, wondering whether the holes were indeed handmade, and if so, what they might have been used for. Some archeologists came to a surprising hypothesis: the bone had been used by Neanderthals as an instrument—evidence of music in culture more than 40,000 years ago.

Whether or not the bone fragment was actually used as a prehistoric instrument is the subject of debate, but musicologists have shown that the wind through the holes creates a musical scale, and the odds that naturally created, randomly spaced holes (as opposed to holes deliberately placed by humans) would create the same effect are one in several million.

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