Henan Museum
Jiahu Bone Flute
Edit: Gp
Time: 2023-04-14 11:10:00
Period: Peiligang culture, Neolithic Age (9000-7000B.P.)
Provenance: Excavated at Jiahu Site, Wuyang, Henan province,1987
Measurements: Length23.1cm
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This flute is made from the wing bone of a bird from the crane family. It is shaped like a long pipe, with a series of seven holes drilled in a straight line down one side. Twenty-five of these bone flutes have been excavated at the Jiahu Cun site, of which this is the least damaged. All of these flutes feature seven holes, with a common shape produced by a standardized method of production. Evenly spaced markings are first determined and applied; then the seven holes are bored. After the holes have been bored the instrument is tested and corrections are made, marked and carved again.

Compared to the wind instruments of later generations, this bone flute lacks only the notes liu and gou. It is believed to be the ancestor of China’s later wind instruments. Tests by specialists have determined its precise pitch and range. It can produce a six-note scale, which was possibly a slight adjustment of an ancient seven-note scale. This illustrates how, between seven and eight millennia ago, the early peoples of Jiahu were already capable of both performing and appreciating wind instrument music.

The Jiahu flutes have a clear five-octave range, including the first, second, third, fifth and sixth notes in the Chinese musical scale, as well as possible combinations producing the fourth and seventh notes, a possible basis for a seven-note scale. Consequently the discovery of the Jiahu bone flutes have rewritten a portion of the history of music in China.