Tiny 12,000-year-old flutes found in Galilee imitate predatory birds

The instruments, made from the wing bones of waterfowl, may have been used to hunt


(JNS) Tiny bones from prehistoric waterfowl found in northern Israel’s Hula Valley functioned as miniature flutes and could have been used for hunting, music and even communicating with other birds, experts believe.

The minuscule flutes, fashioned from the wing bones of waterfowl, were unearthed in the village of Eynan-Mallaha, about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavations at the site, first carried out by a French mission in 1955 and later in 1996 to 2005, uncovered fragments of seven flutes dating back to 10,000 BCE among the bones of a variety of animal species, including birds, the state archaeological body said.

It is the largest collection of prehistoric sound-producing instruments ever found in the Levant, a report published in the journal Scientific Reports states.

The site was inhabited from 12,000 to 8,000 BCE, around the time when humans were undergoing a revolution from nomadic hunter-gatherers to more sedentary communities.

Israeli and French researchers noticed tiny holes drilled at regular intervals along some of the bones, indicating these marks were manmade.

They discovered that the instruments produce different sounds and concluded that they are flutes. When the sounds were compared with the calls of dozens of bird species found in Eynan-Mallaha, it emerged that they resembled two birds of prey — the Eurasian sparrowhawk and the Common kestrel.

The team theorised that people equipped with the flutes took up a position near waterfowl and played the flutes to attract sparrowhawks and kestrels. Those birds, attracted by the calls produced by the instruments, would have approached, prompting the waterfowl to scatter, making them easier to catch, the researchers suggested.

 “One of the flutes was discovered complete. So far as is known it is the only one in the world in this state of preservation,” the Israel Antiquities Authority noted.

“The replicas produce the same sounds that the hunter-gatherers may have made 12,000 years ago...If the flutes were used for hunting, then this is the earliest evidence of the use of sound in hunting."

Rivka Rabinovich, associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the research underscores the importance of "[preserving] the cultural finds uncovered during excavations, which continue to yield new insights and research directions into human culture, thanks to new methods and to collaboration among scholars in different disciplines."

Described as a "paradise" for birdwatchers, the Hula Valley area is visited every year by hundreds of millions of birds migrating between Europe, Asia and Africa.

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