But there is no clear prior evidence for the exercise of human musicality - for musical behaviours - prior to some 36,000 BP (a bone pipe discovered near Württemberg, see Dauvois, 1989), though the existence of the capacity prior to that date must be inferred (see Lawson, 1999). It might be that previous musical behaviours took an entirely vocal form - thus leaving no recoverable traces - or it might be that early musical instruments or artefacts were made of highly perishable and hence virtually unrecoverable materials (reed-stalks, or bark tubes). It might be, however, that early musical artefacts exist unrecognised in the archaeological record; there are certainly prior cases of misidentification of sound-producing artefacts.
This project was intended as a pilot study to explore whether there might be evidence for sound production - and hence perhaps music production - by means of instruments or artefacts that is recoverable from the lithic record. The study focused on those lithic objects of which the properties were perhaps best known in Aurignacian times, flint tools - blades, flakes and cores - and investigated (i) whether these could be used to produce sounds that might be exploited musically and (ii) whether the use of such lithic objects for sound productions left consistent and replicable traces of use-wear that might serve a diagnostic function for archaeological specimens. To leap to the conclusions that can be drawn from this pilot study, the answers to these two questions appear to be (i) yes and (ii) probably.
Evidence for the use of lithic objects in the Upper Palaeolithic to produce sound can be found in Dams (1985). These reports concern the exploitation of stalagmitic formations, which afford differently pitched sounds when struck, in caves in France (Roucadour, Cougnac, Pech-Merle), Spain (Nerja) and in Portugal (Escoural). Dams indicates that many of these lithophones are decorated or marked, often with red ochre dots, pointing to an intentional and repeated use for sound production which (op. cit, p32) "can be observed by the traces of blows, damaging or chipping the surface".
Hence if natural lithic objects
were being used for sound production in the Upper Palaeolithic, it seems
logical to examine the possibility that the sonic potential of artificial
lithic objects of the type most common within that period's culture(s)
might have been exploited. As the sites listed by Dams appear to have had
multiple periods of occupation from the Périgordian to the Magdalenian,
it appears most reasonable to focus on the tool-types and shapes used in
the longest-lasting culture of the European Upper Palaeolithic, the Aurignacian.
However, as soon as the project's flint-knapper, Frank Cowan, started to produce Aurignacian-type blades and flakes, it quickly became evident that these materials possessed sound-producing attributes that could only be elicited from actions extremely different from those involved in knapping. Consequently the focus of the experiments quickly broadened to explore aspects of materials and use-wear, as it became evident that repeated use for sound-production appeared to result in quite distinct patterns of surface and edge damage to the lithic objects.
The initial informal "play" with the "Aurignacian tool kits" indicated that the most "musical" sounds were producible by lightly coupling blades or flakes between thumb and index or middle finger and using them as "chimes". Empirical observation of the most effective way of eliciting pitched sounds, together with some basic acoustical knowledge, led to the conclusion that the blades were indeed operating acoustically as "chime bars" (see Fletcher & Rossing, 1998, pp624-633). The "best" sounds were produced when the blades were suspended between the fingers at a point approximately one-quarter along the length of the blade (in fact, 0.224 of the length).
Materials were approximately
8-10 inch cobbles which bore considerable surface incipient cone cortex
(from glacial gravel outwash. The raw material was, on the whole good though
variable in quality, frequently being heterogeneous in texture with occasional
flaws or cracks. All protocols were derived from informal pilot testing
of the materials, and enabled: (i) the form of the lithic objects (specimens)
to be classified; (ii) the mode and "quality" of sound production ("good",
"acceptable" or "bad") to be described and recordings to be made; (iii)
the analysis of the recorded sounds to be encoded in reduced form; and
(iv) the resultant patterns of use-wear to be characterised. All data were
input into a central database (using Microsoft Access), and raw data in
the form of recorded sound and image files were stored as, respectively,
mono 16-bit AIFF files and JPEG files. A single rater (Lis Fleming) was
employed to undertake the bulk of the recording and lithic percussion (some
109 specimens in all); an additional rater (Paula Constant) was employed
to percuss and record a further 15 specimens to examine the effect of rater
on the measured outputs.
|mean:||frequency (Hz)||duration (msec)||intensity (dB)|
It is notable that only the specimens rated as "good" had principal frequency components that lay within (though at the upper end of) the usual "musical" frequency range. Further analyses of playability ratings showed that these were consistently related to physical properties of the specimens, in particular, to both length and thickness. The results indicated that to a "player" a heuristic indication of the sound-producing capacity of the specimen is immediately available from estimation of its length and (secondarily) its thickness.
Samples of some of the sounds produced are given below. All were rated as "good", and all produce clear, pitched sounds. All sounds are in AIFF and WAV format (16-bit 44.1 KHz).
|AIFF format||resonator 6||resonator 16||resonator 24||resonator 66|
|WAV format||resonator 6||resonator 16||resonator 24||resonator 66|
An analysis of one of the sounds rated as "good" (using the very wonderful Lemur 4 - for details see the CERL Home Page) is shown below, together with the sound sample from which the analysis derived.
|resonator 1 (AIFF)||resonator 1 (WAV)|
A short "lithic piece", put together by sequencing some of the recorded materials using MOTU's Digital Performer software, can be accessed below. The "piece is in RealAudio format, and you will need a version of RealPlayer to hear it.
Preliminary analyses of use-wear showed
a consistent appearance of small densely clustered surface cones or of
multiple small, densely clustered small areas of surface polish results
from sound-producing use of the specimens. Occasionally, small scratches
occurred. Of the three different kinds of damage, the cone-cracking was
most consistent and is undoubtedly the most diagnostic usewear criterion.
No other behavioral or geological forces that we can think of are likely
to produce the kind of very patterned clustering of cone-cracks as were
experimentally produced in musical use. Microscopic images clearly show
the patterns of use-wear resulting from this musical use; images of one of the specimens (distal end, hence the capital letter "D") before and after repeated percussing are shown below:
A preliminary survey of some of the
Palaeolithic flint materials in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology
and Anthropology indicated that there were very few instances of blades
or flakes with small surface coning; if this type of use-wear ocurs as
a result of "natural" circumstances it would appear to be rare and differentiable
from the sort of wear that arises from lithic chime percussion.
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Dauvois, M. (1989) Son et musique paléolithiques. Les Dossiers d'Archéologie No 142: La Musique dans l'Antiquité. 2-11.
Fletcher, N. H., & Rossing, T. D. (1998) The physics of musical instruments (2nd edn.) New York: Springer-Verlag.
Lawson, G. (1999) Getting to grips with music's prehistory. In Experiment and Design: Studies in Honour of John Coles, A. F. Harding (Ed.) Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Merker, B. (1999). Synchronous chorusing and the origins of music. Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue. 59-74.
Miller, G. F. (1997) Protean primates: the evolution of adaptive unpredictability in competition and courtship. In Machiavellian Intelligence II: extensions and evaluations. A. Whiten & R. W. Byrne (Eds). Cambridge: CUP.
Mithen, S. (1996) The Prehistory of the mind. London: Thames & Hudson
Pinker, S. (1997) How the mind works. New York: W.W. Norton.
Trevarthen, C. (1999) Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication. Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue. 155-215.
Vaneechoutte, M. and Skoyles, J.R. (1998). The memetic origin of language: modern humans as musical primates. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of InformationTransmission, 2.
Wallin, N.L., Merker. B., & Brown, S. (Eds.) (2000) The Origins of Music. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Zubrow, E., Cross, I. & Cowan, F. (2001) Musical behaviour and the archaeology of the mind. Archaeologia Polona, 39, 111-126.