Music Is As Old As Humanity

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How was music born, how did it begin? Did our ancestors first create rhythm by beating objects, or did they first sing using their voices? What types of instruments did they use? Has music always been important in societies? And if so, why? When we focus on the answers to such questions, it becomes obvious that the history of music is as old as the history of humanity.

So, what “is” music? Now that is hard to define. Everyone has a different answer to that question, a different description.

Jeremy Montagu from the University of Oxford also explores all these questions in his article recently published in Frontiers in Sociology. He describes music as "the sound that conveys emotion".

So, how do we distinguish music and speech? Elements like rhythm, pattern and controlling pitch apply both to someone reciting a sonnet or speaking with heightened emotion. Montagu thinks that every one of us, in our own way, can say 'Yes, this is music', and 'No, that is speech'."

The earliest musical instruments

An important component of music is rhythm. Our early ancestors may have created rhythmic music by clapping their hands. This possibly led to the creation of early musical instruments. When our ancestors realised that beating stones or sticks together doesn't hurt your hands, they must have felt surprised and definitely very happy.

Most of the early instruments must have been made from soft and nondurable materials like wood or reeds. Those that have survived to this day are pipes made of bones. It is worth mentioning that some of the ancient instruments were quite intriguing. For example, there is evidence that people struck stalactites in caves about 12,000 years ago. The caves acted as resonators for the sound.

The oldest known musical instrument is a bone flute, estimated to be over 43 thousand years old. In 2008, archaeologists discovered fragments of flutes carved from vulture and mammoth bones in Hohle Fels, a Stone Age cave site in southern Germany. And the carve-master was possibly a Neanderthal. Click here to listen to its sound.

The first song
The very first song to be produced belongs to the Sumerians and is 3,400 years old. This was a hymn carved on tablets. The tablets were unearthed in the ancient city of Ugarit around 1950’s and the song was later interpreted by Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, by adapting it to the 7-note diatonic scale we use today. Listen to a demo of it here.

Connecting people

Music may have indeed been with us since when humans first evolved, and it has definitely served many purposes. Dancing is one of them. Although we cannot entirely be sure if the first dancers needed an accompanying music, or if the rhythmical movements of people were driven by music… So, the reason of its birth could be entertainment, communication, or early religious beliefs.

Whatever the reason, music had the power to bring people together. "Music leads to bonding, such as bonding between mother and child or bonding between groups," explains Montagu. "Music keeps workers happy when doing repetitive and otherwise boring work, and helps everyone to move together, increasing the force of their work. Dancing or singing together before a hunt or warfare binds participants into a cohesive group".

Obviously, our lives would be a lot solitary and monotonous without music. We would still not be on our own, but it would possibly be quite boring.


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