At its core, live music has the ability to unite people under a singular experience, which, in turn, can change the way people think and behave. Many of us can remember feeling a deep sense of community at our favorite concert. On the flip side, those of us who play in bands understand the kinship that develops from making music with others. Whether we are performing it or just enjoying it, humans can learn something about themselves and one another from live music.
As it turns out, this phenomenon is rather ancient. According to some recent findings published in periodicals like the New York Times and National Geographic as well as in scholarly journals such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, humans have used music as a form of social bonding for the last 40,000 + years.
In 2008, a flute made of vulture bones was found in the Swabian cave system of southern Germany, which, through carbon dating, has been revealed to be between 40,000 and 45,000 years old. This span of time points to a period of significant migration in which “the first anatomically modern humans were spreading into Central Europe” (Wilford). The flute’s age is consistent with previous hypotheses of when the first modern humans migrated into Central Europe along the Danube River Valley, suggesting that this musical instrument was vital in rallying the community together during this strenuous, dangerous time (Wilford).
For instance, Nicholas Conard, an archeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, posits that the music generated by crude instruments such as this vulture bone flute was an essential force in socializing, organizing, and motivating the first generation of modern humans during this period of intense struggle: “Think how important music is for us. Whether it’s at church, a party, or just for fun, you can see how powerful music can be. People often hear a song and cry, or feel great joy or sorrow. All of those kinds of emotions help bond people together” (Welsh).
Not only did the sharing of music bring our early ancestors together during periods of migration, it was perhaps integral to their survival: “Music may have been one of the cultural accomplishments that gave the first European modern-human (Homo sapiens) settlers an advantage over their now extinct Neanderthal-human (Homo neanderthalis) cousins” (Owen). This early musical tradition allowed the first modern humans to form the “tight social bonds” necessary for “maintaining and strengthening Stone Age social networks,” which fostered “greater societal organization and strategizing” (Owen). As researchers Chris Loersch and Nathan Arbuckle put it, “The powerful psychological pull of music in modern life may derive from its innate ability to connect us to others” (Jacobs).
To our knowledge, humans have been sharing information with one another through music since around 40,000 B.C., and there is no indication of that changing anytime soon. In fact, if music was crucial in uniting the first modern humans during centuries of strenuous migration and provided them with organizational and tactical advantages over their now-extinct ancestors, it could be fair to say that – without music, we wouldn’t be human. And, while our connection to music may not have changed much over the last twenty or so millennia, our instruments certainly have.
Jacobs, Tom. “The Sounds That Bind: Why We Evolved to Love Music.” Pacific Standard: The Science of Society. 5 August 2013. Web. 15 June 2014.
Owen, James. “Bone Flute Is Oldest Instrument, Study Says.” National Geographic. 24 June 2009. Web. June 9 1014.
Welsh, Jennifer. “Caveman Flutists? First Instruments Date Back 40,000 Years.” LiveScience. 24 May 2012. Web. June 12 2014.
Wilford, John Noble. “Flutes Revised Age Dates the Sound of Music Earlier.” The New York Times. 29 May 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.