Discovery: Chinese were playing music 9,000 years ago

Discovery: Chinese were playing music 9,000 years ago


norman lebrecht

November 03, 2013

Three bone-flutes found during excavations in Henan province offer evidence that indigenous people in China were making music nine millennia ago. 

“People who created Jiahu culture were not only hunters, fishermen and craftsmen, but also early farmers and brilliant artists,” said Zhang Juzhong, professor at the University of Science and Technology of China who oversaw the work.

There may be older traces of music making in the Middle East, but this find is an important one, pointing to an earlier musical culture in China than previously imagined.




  • michaela says:

    Always exciting to read about the discovery of ancient flutes! While this find is fascinating, keep in mind that the oldest known flute to date was discovered in Germany and dates back 35,000 years!

    Meanwhile, in Spain at the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos –

    – there is a display of reproductions of ancient flutes dating back as far as 90,000 years! They are made of antelope, bear, swan, vulture and swallow bone and were found across Europe, from the Ukraine to France and Germany. Here is a link, in Spanish, with photos:

    • Ehkzu says:

      Can you tell from the configuration of the flutes what sorts of scales they used?

      • sixtus says:

        The article at the link says they are heptatonic (i.e. 7 notes per octave, as in a major or minor scale). Telling what types of scales could actually be played would probably involve some experimentation with fingering. And don’t forget that partial coverage of the holes could be used to bend pitches. We’ll probably never be able to reconstruct precisely how these instruments were used, unfortunately.

        The link also says the same archaeological site shows they were also concocting fermented alcoholic beverages back then.

        Sex, drugs and rock-age-roll.