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The early development of music. Analysis of the Jiahu bone flutes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2015

Juzhong Zhang
University of Science and Technology of China, Department of History of Science and Technology and Archaeometry
Xinghua Xiao
Chinese Academy of Fine Arts, Institute of Music
Yun Kuen Lee
Lee, Harvard University, Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA (Email:
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The authors present the musical properties of well-preserved bone flutes recently recovered from Jiahu, an early Neolithic site in central China with a sequence beginning in the seventh millennium BC (Antiquity 77: 31–44). Tonal analyses of five of the flutes indicate a gradual development from four-tone to seven-tone scale. By adding more holes to the pipe, structuring the pitch intervals closer to each other, and by alternating the keynote, the prehistoric musicians could play increasingly expressive and varied music. In addition, the flutes became progressively standardised in pitch, presumably so they could play in harmony. The study shows that the Jiahu flute makers and their musicians became progressively familiar with acoustics and developed a cognitive scheme of music comparable to that of modern times.

Research Article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd. 2004


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