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Art & Artifacts


Bird bones and DIY decorations

by Ariana Remmel
July 16, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 23


Bone songs

A close-up of a bearded man blowing into a small, orange-tinted piece of bone barely the length of his pinky. He is playing it like a recorder.
Credit: Laurent Davin
Small yet mighty: This tiny flute made from bird bone recreates a raptor’s cry.

As Laurent Davin sorted through prehistoric bird bones, he did not expect to find musical instruments in the mix. Davin, an archeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the French National Center for Scientific Research, and his colleagues are part of a team excavating Eynan-Mallaha, an ancient settlement in Galilee that was once home to the Natufians. Davin was revisiting a collection of 1,112 bird bones from the site, all dated between 10,730 and 9,760 BCE, when he noticed one with a curious perforation. It was tiny and delicate, yet the holes were deliberately made and worn from use. It looked like a kind of notched flute, Davin tells Newscripts. The researchers scoured the collection and eventually found fragments of six flutes along with one complete instrument (Sci. Rep. 2023, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-35700-9).

All the specimens were made from the hollow wing bones of Eurasian coots (Fulica atra) and Eurasian teal (Anas crecca), small waterfowl that historically wintered at a nearby lake, Davin says. Because the Natufians also hunted larger animals, including meaty mallards, Davin wondered why they chose to craft with such dainty appendages. Perhaps the Natufians were after a particular pitch. “We didn’t want it to blow in 12,000-year-old instruments, so we made replicas using the same techniques and tools,” Davin says.

Though the instrument is difficult to play, Davin and his team were delighted to hear the bird bone resound with a clear, high-pitched whistle. They realized that this whistle bears a striking resemblance to the calls of the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), two birds of prey whose bones have also been found in the Eynan-Mallaha archaeological site. The researchers can’t be sure how the Natufians used these flutes. They could have imitated the raptor calls to help them hunt the birds or to hunt with the birds in the practice of falconry, Davin says. The instruments may have had symbolic importance as well, given that the Natufians incorporated the raptors’ talons into personal ornaments.

Eurasian coots, Eurasian teal, common kestrels, and Eurasian sparrowhawks still abound seasonally at Eynan-Mallaha, where excavation is ongoing. This winter, Davin and his colleagues plan to play the flutes for visitors so they can enjoy the Natufian tune that’s gone unheard for millennia.


Waste not, want not

A blurry woman holds up a small pillow to the camera. The pillow is woven from strips of colorful lanyards with the names and logos of scientific conferences visible.
Credit: Erin Winick Anthony
Conference crafts: Erin Winick Anthony created a woven pillow by upcycling her favorite lanyards.

In April, Erin Winick Anthony found herself in a bit of a tangle. As a science communicator and founder of STEAM Power Media, Anthony has been to a lot of conferences that left her with a drawer full of commemorative lanyards. Many of them had sentimental value, and Anthony hoped she could use her crafting skills to reclaim some storage space. At the time, she was setting up a filming nook in her office, where she makes science communication videos. “I love putting maker projects in the background of my videos,” Anthony tells Newscripts. So she chose a selection of her favorite lanyards and started weaving them together to make a small throw pillow.

Anthony encountered a couple of complications while constructing the cushion. “A lot of lanyards are really slick, which is not necessarily the ideal sewing material,” she says. “Also, my cats were very fond of the many stringy pieces of material.” Nevertheless, she continued to fantastic effect and later posted her creation on social media. Anthony was flattered by compliments from her followers, including one who made a lanyard pillow of their own. Anthony encourages fellow lanyard hoarders to try for themselves, noting that the woven pattern could be used for all sorts of applications.

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This story was updated on July 17, 2023, to correct the name of the person in the photo with the lanyard pillow. Her name is Erin, not Eric, Winick Anthony.

This story was updated on July 19, 2023, to correct the name of Erin Winick Anthony's company. It is STEAM Power Media, not STEAM Storytelling.


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