Music is as much a part of everyday life today as it has been for decades or, rather, centuries or even millennia.

In fact, scientists believe that through a combination of archaeological finds and evolutionary analysis of our ancestors, it is possible to track music back over two million years.

Consultant clinical neurologist, Miles Humberstone, says the discovery of the Hohle Fels flute in a German cave (dating back over 40,000 years) proves that music can be traced at the very least back to then.

Although, with vocal music leaving no fossil trace, other methods are necessary for a date to be determined.

The Hohle Fels Flute is made of vulture bone (Image: H. Jensen/Univeristy of Tubingen)

Humberstone notes how it is that humans create vocal music and what evolutionary adaptations are required to facilitate this.

“One thing about vocal music music, is you need a large vocal range… you need a large voice box, ‘larynx’, and a large space above it, the ‘superior laryngeal space’.”

He says the great apes did not have this space to create vocal music. This means that by tracing our ancestry back to them and analysing changes in bone structure, it is possible to discover at what stage vocal music began.

Key skeletal differences (Image: Pathwayz.org)

“If you look at the chests and rib cage of the great apes they’re upside down and funnel-shaped – narrow at the top and broad at the bottom.

By the time you get to homo-erectus, the chests have become barrel-shaped, like modern humans.”

“OUR ANCESTORS WERE MAKING BONE FLUTES… 28,000 YEARS BEFORE THEY LEARNED TO FARM”
MILES HUMBERSTONE, CONSULTANT CLINICAL NEUROLOGIST

Through tracing our ancestry, scientists can say that it is highly likely that vocal music has been present in communities as far back as two million years ago.

Miles Humberstone explains how vocal music could be linked back almost 2 million years

For a bit of perspective, Humberstone adds that “agriculture is about 12,000 years old so that means our ancestors were making bone flutes something like 28,000 years before they learned to farm.”

The earliest music instrument is from at least 40,000 years ago

Vocal music can be traced back to 1.7-2 million years ago