Hebrew University Researchers Find Prehistoric Flutes made from Bones were Used to Imitate Bird Calls

Prehistoric bones found in northern Israel may have been crafted into flutes 12,000 years ago, according to a new study. The research team, led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), believes the flutes were used for hunting, music, or some form of communication with birds.

 The researchers developed replicas of the prehistoric flutes and compared their sounds with the calls of dozens of bird species found in the area. The sounds resembled the Eurasian Sparrowhawk and the Common Kestrel, birds of prey that are found in the region. 

One of the theories in the new study published in Nature Scientific Reports is that hunters blew the flutes near waterfowl to scatter and catch them. The claws of these waterfowl appear to have had several uses, including ornaments and piercing bones to produce new whistles. It is also possible that the sounds produced by the flutes served different social, cultural, and symbolic functions for the hunter-gatherers in the Eynan/Ein-Mallaha region of northern Israel.

 The Hula Valley site was first excavated by a French mission in 1955, and later in 1996–2005 by a joint team from the Centre de Recherche Français à Jérusalem (CRFJ) and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), directed by François Valla of the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily of the IAA. In the settlement, excavators found circular structures, the homes of hunter-gatherers, and the bones of a variety of animal species, including birds.

 In a joint statement, Dr. Laurent Davin, a post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology and the CRFJ, and Dr. Khalaily said, “One of the flutes was discovered intact. We believe it is the only one in this state of preservation.”

Dr. Davin examined the bones of birds that were recovered by the excavators at the site and noticed marks on seven tiny wing bones of Eurasian coots and Eurasian teals. Together with co-researcher Dr. José-Miguel Tejero of the University of Vienna and the University of Barcelona, he closely examined these marks and recognized very tiny holes bored into the hollow bones.

Dr. Khalaily says that “If the flutes were used for hunting, then this is the earliest evidence of the use of sound in hunting. In most sites from the same period as Eynan, these instruments deteriorated and vanished. This discovery provides important new information on hunting methods in the southern Levant and supplements the various prehistorical tools that mark the transition from agriculture and plant cultivation to animal hunting.”