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“The first modern humans in Europe were playing musicalinstruments and showing artistic creativity as early as 40,000years ago, according to new research from Oxford and Tübingenuniversities.
The researchers have obtained important new radiocarbon datesfor bones found in the same archaeological layers as a variety ofmusical instruments. The instruments take the form of flutes madefrom the bird bones and mammoth ivory. They were excavated at a keysite in Germany, which is widely believed to have been occupied bysome of first modern humans to arrive in Europe.
In a paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution, theresearchers describe the new dating results for animal bones,excavated in the same archaeological layers as the instruments andearly art, at Geißenklösterle Cave in the Swabian Jura of southernGermany. The animal bones bear cuts and marks from human huntingand eating.
The new dates were obtained by Professor Tom Higham and his teamat Oxford University, using an improved ultrafiltration methoddesigned to remove contamination from the collagen preserved in thebones. The researchers show that the Aurignacian, a culture linkedwith early modern humans and dating to the Upper Paleolithicperiod, began at the site between 42,000 and 43,000 years ago.
High-resolution dating gave clue
The new dating evidence, obtained from bones in the site,provided results that are 2,000 to 3,000 years older thanpreviously thought. So far these dates are the earliest for theAurignacian and predate equivalent sites from Italy, France,England and other regions.
Lead author Professor Higham from Oxford University said:’High-resolution dating of this kind is essential for establishinga reliable chronology for testing ideas to help explain theexpansion of modern humans into Europe, and the processes that ledto the wide range of cultural innovations, including the advent offigurative art and music.’
Professor Nick Conard of Tübingen University, who was excavatorat the site, said: ‘These results are consistent with a hypothesiswe made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridorfor the movement of humans and technological innovations intocentral Europe between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago. Geißenklösterleis one of several caves in the region that has produced importantexamples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imageryand musical instruments. The new dates prove the great antiquity ofthe Aurignacian in Swabia.’
Artistic innovation in old Germany
The study results indicate that modern humans entered the UpperDanube region before an extremely cold climatic phase at around39,000 to 40,000 years ago. Previously, researchers had argued thatmodern humans initially migrated up the Danube immediately afterthis event.
‘Modern humans during the Aurignacian period were in centralEurope at least 2,000 to 3,000 years before this climaticdeterioration, when huge icebergs calved from ice sheets in thenorthern Atlantic and temperatures plummeted,’ said ProfessorHigham. ‘The question is what effect this downturn might have hadon the people in Europe at the time.’
The results are also important for considering the relationshipbetween early moderns and Neanderthals in Europe. Despite a majoreffort to identify archaeological signatures of interaction betweenNeanderthals and modern humans in this region, researchers have yetto identify indications of any cultural contact or interbreeding inthis part of Europe.
The results suggest that the Danube Valley is a plausiblehomeland for the Aurignacian, with the Swabian caves producing theearliest record of technological and artistic innovations that arecharacteristic of this period. Whether the many innovations foundin Swabia were stimulated by climatic conditions, competitionbetween modern humans and Neanderthals, or by social and culturalinfluences that formed quite independently remain a central focusof their research.”
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