12,000-year-old bone flutes Israel

Archaeologists Unearth Mesmerizing 12,000-Year-Old Bone Flutes

A rare find of prehistoric flute-like instruments suggests the Natufian civilization's intricate relationship with birds and hunting.


Archaeologists have unearthed seven flute-like instruments, believed to be used for hunting, at the Eynan-Mallaha prehistoric site in northern Israel. These 12,000-year-old aerophones represent a remarkable rarity in the history of the Near East.

12,000-Year-Old Bone Flutes Fashioned from Bird Bones

The flutes, carefully crafted from the bones of small water birds, emit sounds reminiscent of Eurasian hawk and common kestrel calls when played. These intricate artifacts unveil an ancient understanding of sound and its relationship with nature.

This wasn’t an arbitrary choice. Larger bird bones, producing deeper sounds, were also found at the site. However, the Natufian civilization deliberately chose smaller bones to mimic the high-pitched calls of specific predatory birds.


Intentionally manufactured

Through technological, use-wear, taphonomic, experimental, and acoustical analyses, scientists demonstrated 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. Although similar aerophones are documented in later archaeological cultures, such artificial bird sounds were yet to be reported from the Palaeolithic context. This makes the recently discovered 12,000-year-old bone flutes even more appealing.

Natufians and Their Bird Affinity: More Than Just Music

Birds evidently held symbolic value for the Natufians, as demonstrated by numerous claw ornaments discovered at Eynan-Mallaha. The settlement, resting by Lake Hula, served as home to this civilization for 3,000 years.

The discovery of the bone flutes sheds light on the Natufian culture and illustrates a pivotal transition from mobile to sedentary lifestyles and from hunting to agriculture. This understanding could provide crucial insights into early human development.


The Pioneering Natufian Culture

The Natufian culture, an Epipaleolithic society, significantly contributed to the Neolithic prehistoric Levant in Western Asia. This culture thrived from approximately 15,000 to 11,500 years ago and is lauded for its progressive strides. Marking the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer communities to settled agricultural societies, the Natufians laid the groundwork for the subsequent agricultural revolution. Situated at the crossroads of mobility and a sedentary lifestyle, the Natufian culture reflects a pivotal era in human history.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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