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Festival of science Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
The original 'rock music'
Flint BBC
Making "rock music" with small flints
By BBC science correspondent Tom Heap

Many of the Stone Age relics lying in our museums might not simply have been tools or weapons - they could also have been musical instruments.

Ian Cross, a music professor at Cambridge University, UK, believes archaeologists have overlooked the melody making potential of certain items sitting in the display cases of world museums.

The researcher has been presenting his findings and demonstrating his "rock music" to the British Association's Festival of Science.

"They're exactly the sort of thing that would be interpreted in an archaeological record as a tool," he said, pointing to some artefacts.

"If now I strike them, there is a possibility of producing sets of tools which have different pitches and possibly producing different patterns of pitches - music."

Oldest instrument

The oldest known musical instrument is a bone pipe from Germany which dates back about 36,000 years. Ian Cross believes slivers of stone could have been used to make music much earlier.

Working flint in the traditional way
In order to research his theory, he found a man who could work a piece of flint in the same way that our Stone Age ancestors might have done.

He then studied the rock implements and found that some of them, when suspended, produced a very pleasant ring. Different shapes and sizes made different tones to create a melody.

With the help of a very low-tech device (two elastic bands and a small empty box), he made a little sound box and cradle. Rest the stone on it and you can play a tune. Professor Cross even arranged some sounds on his computer.

The plausibility of the research is supported by other scientists who have studied the development of the human mind.

Babies and music

Dr Stephen Mithen, from the University of Reading, UK, said that people could have been playing music even before language was developed.

"We tend to think music was an add-on to language," Dr Mithen said.

"It might be the other way round. Our ancestors could have been musical and language somehow evolved from that. It is a very effective way of communicating emotion."

Studies have suggested that babies respond to music so early in their lives that music appreciation must be something instinctive in our brains rather than learnt from the environment.

Stone glockenspiel

Professor Cross admits that he still lacks conclusive physical evidence. But he thinks he can find it.

When the rocks are subjected to repeated light strikes, very distinctive wear patterns appear on their surfaces - thousand of minute conical craters.

The Cambridge researcher now wants to sift through the collections of stone relics in world museums to look for these unique abrasions.

It may not mean we would have to reclassify an arrowhead as a plectrum, but it would make the stone glockenspiel a real possibility.

The BBC's Tom Heap
This could be the original rock music
The BBC's Christine McGourty
The stones make a sound not unlike Tubular Bells
Professor Ian Cross, Cambridge University
"Music, particularly for enfants, would of been something to help them socialise "
See also:

12 Oct 99 | Sheffield 99
22 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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