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Dance and music

It is unlikely that any human society (at any rate until the invention of puritanism) has denied itself the excitement and pleasure of dancing. Like cave painting, the first purpose of dance is probably ritual - appeasing a nature spirit or accompanying a rite of passage. But losing oneself in rhythmic movement with other people is an easy form of intoxication. Pleasure can never have been far away.

Rhythm, indispensable in dancing, is also a basic element of music. It is natural to beat out the rhythm of the dance with sticks. It is natural to accompany the movement of the dance with rhythmic chanting. Dance and music begin as partners in the service of ritual.

Music lurks in the corners of everyday life. Hollow objects make notes when struck. Reeds and bamboos and shells whistle and moan when one blows into them (and sometimes even when the wind does). Anything stretched tight goes twang when plucked - an increasingly familiar sound once hunters have bows and arrows (from about 15,000 years ago). And the human voice has a delightful ability to go up and down at will.

Music is a game waiting to be played.

Solo flute: 45,000 years ago

A recent discovery suggests that music is played much earlier than previously suspected -- and apparently by humans of a different species from ourselves. In 1995, deep in a cave in Slovenia occupied 45,000 years ago by Neanderthals, a flute was found. It was made from the leg bone of a young bear. Though broken at both ends, it still has four finger holes. In its prime it could produce at least four notes.

Simple whistles have been found earlier than this, capable of only a single note (two such whistles, made by modern humans perhaps 100,000 years ago, have been unearthed in Libya). But if accurately dated, this Neanderthal flute is by far the earliest known example of music.

Scrapers, roarers and rattles: from 12,000 years ago

Several primitive musical instruments, dating from about 12,000 years ago in the late palaeolithic period, have been discovered by archaeologists. They include scrapers, to produce a rhythmic rasping sound (the washboard of traditional skiffle is a scraper); and 'bull-roarers', consisting of a piece of wood which can be swung on a cord to make a loud vibrating sound from its passage through the air.

Natural rattles (for example gourds with their dried seeds inside) are also certainly used for music from the earliest times.

Woodwind and strings: 10,000-3000 BC

In the next 7000 years, up to the start of recorded history, many other musical instruments are developed. Trumpets from natural materials, such as the conch shell or the long hollow bamboo of the Australian didgeridoo, may have been introduced first as speaking tubes - enhancing or disguising the voice of the priest. Drums are mainly blocks of wood or stone. Hollow reeds of different pitch are bound together as panpipes, and flutes with holes are made in hollow cane, or even pottery.

Stringed instruments first appear when people discover how to make music on a bow. One way is to put the end of the bow in the mouth and to tap the string, changing the note by altering the cavity of jaw and cheeks.

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