What is the oldest musical instrument played other than the human voice, but body parts are acceptable? Did Neanderthals use instruments to play music?


2 Answers 2


It's probably not possible to tell. Wood and bone can often be inherently musical when struck, so some kind of proto-claves likely existed before recorded history. Rocks may have also been used for percussion from very early on.

In 2012, the BBC reported on a finding of bone flutes as the "oldest instruments" ever discovered, at 42,000 - 43,000 years old.

Obviously if simple bones, sticks, and/or rocks were used as percussion instruments in prehistoric times, it is likely impossible to tell at this point. Unless they are carved in some way, there's no way to know how they were used. Evidence of shaped lithophones (resonant rocks) exists from as far back as 10,000 years ago.

See also: Prehistoric music (Wikpedia).

One final note: In addition to excluding the human voice, I also did not discuss hand claps, feet stomps, etc., both because it seemed like the question didn't mean to include those and because none of those constitute "instruments", as I understand the word. It seems likely that the earliest music was created simply by parts of the human body.

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    "It seems likely that the earliest music was created simply by parts of the human body." - armpit farts? May 8, 2019 at 4:11
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    @LamarLatrell - possibly construable as 'musical'. Google 'Le Petomane'.
    – Tim
    May 8, 2019 at 7:15
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    @dfhwze You thought what was some kind of flute? The answer already mentions the discovery of a forty-thousand-year-old flute, but also explains why this was probably not the oldest instrument that existed, only the oldest identifiable instrument that we've discovered.
    – IMSoP
    May 8, 2019 at 11:44
  • A shell or a horn can be blown, and somebody digging it up aeons later could probably find no evidence of that fact until the art advanced to tuning or ornamenting it.
    – nigel222
    May 8, 2019 at 11:48
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    There is a conjecture that the development of speech is connected to rythmic, ritual dancing and chanting, not only or perhaps even not primarily to the passing of rational information. Scenarios are easily to imagine: Many activities (grinding grains, hunting, fighting) are noisy; re-enacting it, reproducing the noise, in a celebration of achievements is already almost a dance. Also connected: modern age chanting of forced laborers, sailors etc., potentially with their tools of the trade. May 8, 2019 at 13:24

I've been told that civilization began in Africa. That causes me to guess that drums of the sort, like hollow logs and improvised claves, might have been the original instruments. I don't know this for a fact, but I can easily picture music as we know it, starting out as simple rhythmic patterns and native chants used in fertility rites and rain dances. That said I have to add that your guess is probably as good as mine.


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