Hahn Highlights: Bone Flutes and Whistles
Posted On: 02/12/2018 - 12:07pm, Posted By: Other
This post was guest authored by Alyssa Stark, Archaeology Intern
Welcome to the tenth installment of Archaeology Collections’ long-term blog series: Hahn Highlights!
Today we have a special guest post by archaeology intern, Alyssa Stark from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Wright State University, about two interesting artifacts recovered during Cincinnati Museum Center’s Archaeology Field School at the Hahn Site: a bone flute excavated from Feature 200 and a bone whistle excavated from Feature 336.
The bone flute is made from a bird’s leg bone, probably the tibiotarsus, and measures about nine centimeters long and has three holes that are spaced roughly two centimeters apart. It was found in Feature 200, which was a late Fort Ancient (ca. AD 1400-1650) corn silo that was excavated in 2014. The bone whistle, also probably made from a tibiotarsus, was found in Feature 336 during the 2016 field season and measures about 12 centimeters long and has a nearly two centimeter slot cut out near the middle of the artifact. Using relative dating, Feature 336 was dated to the middle Fort Ancient period (ca. AD 1200-1400) based on the presence of diagnostic artifacts typical for that period. Absolute dating, or radiocarbon dating, was later completed for No. 336 using carbonized botanicals recovered from Horizon B, chronologically placing it in the latter part of the 14th century.
Bird bone flutes and other musical instruments are relatively common archaeological discoveries around the world, and particularly during the latter portions of prehistory. Musical instruments likely served multiple purposes for the people who made and used them. Animal ‘game calls’ for hunting, and communication over long distances are possibilities. However, flutes and whistles could have also been used during religious ceremonies, or for entertainment and/or dancing. At the Hahn Site, five bone flute fragments and one bone whistle have been cataloged to date.
Each of the five cataloged flutes have variable spacing between the finger holes. The decision to make the holes a certain distance apart from each other could be for pitch or to fit an individual’s finger length, and the presence of both short and long spacing may suggest that both children and adults could have been using bone flutes. One of the five bone flutes found at the Hahn Site was also burned. Modification through burning would have undoubtedly changed the sound or pitch of the instrument. Let us know what you think! Were both children and adults playing these instruments or are the hole-distances simply for tone? Do you think that people at the Hahn Site could have been heat-treating instruments to experiment with different sounds?
To learn more about Feature 200 and its deposit of carbonized corn see Tyler Swinney’s blog post here. Also check out Bob Genheimer’s blog post about archaeology dating methods here.