Melodies from the depths of history: Musical heritages from ancient China

Neolithic period (7000-1700 BC)

Updated: Feb 9, 2023 Print
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Jiahu bone flute


The Jiahu bone flute is kept in the permanent collection of Henan Museum [Photo/IC]

Dating back from 7,800 to 9,000 years ago, the Jiahu ruins site in Central China’s Henan province is a Neolithic settlement site that boasts the most abundant relics from the same period. Thirty--odd flutes made of crane’s ulna bones were unearthed there from 1984 to 1987 and in 2001, most of which have seven holes. One of them, now in the collection of the Henan Museum, is a particularly brilliant example that can play not only five and seven-tone scale music, but also melodies with chromatic tones.

Jiahu bone flutes are the oldest musical instruments ever found in China and have been identified as the world’s earliest wind instruments. As a wonder of ancient Chinese music, their discovery rewrites the history of Chinese and global music and is of incomparable academic importance and value.

Banpo fictile xun

Fictile xun discovered from the Banpo ruins site [Photo/Official Website of Banpo Museum]

Unearthed from the Banpo ruins site, which is associated with the Yangshao Culture (c.50th century -c.30th century BC), in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, this fictile xun (a globular, vessel flute from China) was kneaded with fine mud and is believed to have a history of more than 6,000 years.

It is 5.8 centimeters long, about the size of an olive, and has a sound hole and a blow hole. In 1978, the famous Chinese musician Lu Ji tested this xun with a phonometer and surprisingly found that it could clearly play the four-tone scale of G4, A4, B4 and C5. It proved that the xun unearthed from the Banpo ruins site had a certain performance function and is one of the earliest wind instruments in China, marking a major discovery in the history of music in the country.



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