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Jiahu Bone Flute of Wuyang
The 23.1-centimetre-long bone flute is an artifact of Peiligang Culture in Neolithic Age. Unearthed in 1987 at the Jiahu Site of Wuyang County, Henan Province, it is now in the collection of Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.
In the history of mankind, Chinese civilization has been shining for its uniqueness, and continuing to this very day with vigor and vitality. Being a prominent birthplace of Chinese civilization ....>>Details
Name:Li Hong
About the Writer: 

Deputy Curator and researcher of Henan Museum;

President of Henan Provincial Institute of Ancient Musical Culture;

Vice-director of Musical Instrument Committee, Museums Association of China;

Vice Secretary General of the Chu Culture Society of China;

Managing Director of Han Painting Society of China;

She has been devoted herself to Research on artifacts, archaeology, museology, and exhibition planning.

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This is a flute made 8,700 years ago and unearthed at the Neolithic site at Jiahu, Wuyang, in the upper reaches of the Huaihe River in central Henan. Made from a hollowed bird ulna, the instrument can produce sounds of heptatonic scale. It is the oldest, best preserved wind instrument ever discovered in China. The unearthing of this remarkable artifact, which has updated our understanding of the origin of music in China, was a memorable event in the Chinese history of music.

A total of near 30 bone flutes were unearthed at the Jiahu Site. Apart from an unfinished one discovered in a pit and two damaged ones found in a stratum, the rest 23 were unearthed in 16 tombs. Of the tombs, seven tombs each had 2 bone flutes interred, and the other nine each had one interred. The tombs with one or two bone flutes accounted for 4% of the 445 tombs that have been excavated at the Jiahu Site. In these tombs, whose dates span more than 1,000 years and which concentrate in one zone, the bone flute or flutes were, more often than not, discovered alongside implements of sorcery or divination, such as turtle shells and ‘Y-shaped implements’. Therefore, the owners of the bone flutes may have been sorcerers, priests, and chieftains and thus occupied a special status in the Jiahu clan.

Twenty-two bone flutes were unearthed form 15 tombs of the Jiahu site. By abundance of burial objects, they may be classified as belonging to three stages—the Early Stage (approximately 9,000-86,00 years ago): the flutes have 5 or 6 holes and may produce sounds of four or five tones; the Middle Stage (approximately 8,600-8,200 years ago): the flutes have seven holes and may produce sounds of six or seven tones; and the Late Stage (approximately 8,200-7,800 years ago): the flutes have seven or eight holes and may produce sounds of seven tones as well as of altered tones.

Except in M341 and M344, where the flute bones were placed by the limb bones of the dead, the others were mostly placed by the two sides of the dead’s thigh and shin bones. The two best preserved and exquisitely made flute bones were unearthed in M282 of the Jiahu Site, where a total of 61 burial objects were discovered. With a total length of 22-23 centimetres, they look light brown all over. The bone flute numbered 282:20 has an extra small round hole between the 6th and 7th holes. Scholars have different opinions on it. Some think that it is inherent in the bone; and others hold that it is a tuning hole drilled to adjust the sound produced from the seventh hole. A close study of this well-preserved flute by musicians Tong Zhongliang, Huang Xiangpeng, Xiao Xinghua, et al., has revealed that it has a scale and can produce rhythmical, musical sounds of accurate tones. Archaeological investigation has turned out that the 282:21 flute had once been broken and repaired when the tomb owner was alive. Fourteen small holes had been drilled in the wall of the broken place, and then a thin cord was used to tie the broken parts together with care. The middle part of the flute shows traces of textile wrapping, which may have been used to protect it from damage. The fact that it had been so cherished is enough to prove the value of the bone flute in that period.