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The History of the Flute

By Edited Nov 10, 2015 0 0

A Look at the Origins of the Flute

The flute is a musical instrument that belongs to the woodwind family, but unlike other members of this family, like an oboe or clarinet, a flute doesn’t use a reed to make a sound, but instead produces sound by the correct delivery of air into the mouth piece. Flutes are considered the earliest known musical instruments, with some flutes discovered that date back between 35,000 to 43,000 years ago.

The History of the Flute

Where the Flute Originated From

While its validity has been heavily disputed, the oldest flute ever discovered was found in at Divje Babe in Slovenia, and is believed to be a fragment of the femur of a juvenile cave bear, with two to four holes, dating back around 43,000.  In 2008, a flute was found in the Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, Germany. It was made from a vulture wing and have a V-shaped mouthpiece. It is believed to be at least 35,000 years old. Other flutes that have been found in the same cave system have been revealed to be even old – around 42,000 to 43,000 years old. These discoveries confirm that these flute are the oldest find of any musical instrument in history.

In 2004, another flute, this time found in the Geißenklösterle cave, near Ulm, Germany. It had three holes, was 18.7 centimetres long and was made from a the tusk of a Mammoth. In the same site 10 years previously two flutes were discovered. They were made from swan bone and dated back around 36,000 years ago.

The earliest Chinese flute discovered dates from around 433 BC during the late Zhou Dynasty, and the ‘chi’ flute was found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng at the Suizhou site, Hubei province, in China. It was made from lacquered bamboo with closed ends and has five holes along the side of the instrument rather than on the top. Another flute called a Gudi, which translated literally means ‘bone flute’, was excavated from a tomb in the Central Chinese province of Henan. It had five to eight holes and was made from the wing bones of red-crowned cranes. It was roughly 9000 years old and still playable.

Flute

Flutes in Literature

The earliest written reference to a flute comes from a Sumerian-language cuneiform tablet that dates back to around 2600-2700 BCE. There is also a tablet depicting an epic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh that mentions flutes. It was written and developed over the period from 2100-600 BCE.

In the Bible, in Genesis 4:21, it is cited as Judal being the "father of all those who play the ugab and the kinnor".  ‘Ugab’ refers to the Hebrew term for some kind of wind instrument, while ‘kinnor’ refers to some type of stringed instrument, or stringed instruments in general. Because of this, Judal is regarded as the inventor of the flute.

In the Bible, in Genesis 4:21, it is cited as Judal being the "father of all those who play the ugab and the kinnor".  ‘Ugab’ refers to the Hebrew term for some kind of wind instrument, while ‘kinnor’ refers to some type of stringed instrument, or stringed instruments in general. Because of this, Judal is regarded as the inventor of the flute.

Indian culture and mythology also includes the flute, with several suggestions that the cross flute was invented in Indian; there is ancient Indian literature that makes references to the cross flute that dates back to 1500 BCE.

The history of the flute shows that this instrument is considered one of the oldest types of musical instrument, and has an effect on music and cultures across the globe.

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