Design of the Week: Divje Babe Bone Flute

By on June 12th, 2023 in Design, news

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This week’s selection is the detailed reconstruction of the Divje Babe Bone Flute by Matt Gilbert.

This item may appear odd, but it is a a replica of an incredibly historic artifact, the Divje Babe Bone Flute.

The Divje Babe Bone Flute [Source: Petar Milošević / CC BY-SA 4.0]

The flute was originally made from the femur of a cave bear, and sports several holes that can modify the musical tones produced by when blowing through the flute.

What is so interesting about this primitive flute? It just happens to be extremely old, believed to have been made between 50-60,000 years ago. It’s so old it wasn’t even made by humans! It was apparently made by Neanderthal people, and is thought to be the very first musical instrument.

Wikipedia describes the flute:

“The Divje Babe flute, also called tidldibab, is a cave bear femur pierced by spaced holes that was unearthed in 1995 during systematic archaeological excavations led by the Institute of Archaeology of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, at the Divje Babe I near Cerkno in northwestern Slovenia. It has been suggested that it was made by Neanderthals as a form of musical instrument, and became known as the Neanderthal flute. The artifact is on prominent public display in the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana as a Neanderthal flute. As such, it would be the world’s oldest known musical instrument.”

Gilbert explains the history of his design:

“While attending a workshop called ‘3D Printing for Acoustics’ at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, I produced this open-source replica of the flute. The model was based on the work of archeologist Ivan Turk1. I tried to copy the shape of the flute as closely as possible, and ended up with a flute that is pretty difficult for me to play, though I’m not a professional player. I have at times managed to play several notes with it.”

Note that on the Wikipedia page there is a short video of a musician playing musical scales on the flute, proving that it can indeed be used as a musical instrument, in spite of some academic disagreement over its provenance.

You can download the 3D model for the Neanderthal Flute and easily print it; it’s not a particularly complex design.

Once printed, you may hold it in your hands and ponder who, exactly, made this thing so many millennia ago, and think of their world as you attempt to play the flute and reproduce notes from another time.

Via Matt Gilbert and Thingiverse

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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