The Oldest Song in the World

The Oldest Song in the World February 19, 2019

In the 1950s, it was thought to be a Sumerian hymn written on clay tablets 3400 years ago, likely played on an ancient harp. But in 2008, archaeologists discovered fragments of flutes carved from mammoth bones in a cave in southern Germany called Hohle Fels. These instruments date back almost 43,000 years.

Yet the oldest song in the world lives in what prompts us to carve holes in bone, in what prompts us to hold our lips to the holes. The oldest song lives in what makes us believe that breathing through holes in bone will create music. The oldest song waits for us to sing through the holes in our heart in order to release a music that has been there forever.

I don’t know how this happens, but every authentic moment is a note: our first breath, our next breath, our first sense of wonder, our next taste of wind, the sudden experience of light, the rise and fall of love, even the puncture of loss and grief. Each is a note that keeps singing itself. Every day, we inhale the music of life, the way we inhale the sky and everyone else’s breath. And when we exhale, what comes through our heart is both mine and yours, everyone’s and no one’s.

It has always been so. To breathe is to sing. To behold is to sing. To love is to be sung. And to open our heart, especially after pain, is to be sung. In ancient Greece, they would place a harp in the ground on top of a hill and wait for the wind to play its strings. Each of us is such a harp, propped in the open. And life plays us. It’s playing us right now. There. Can you hear it? It’s such an old song, such a fine song, that its most enduring note rings as this soft silence between us. Listen. Can you feel it?

To listen to a recording of a reconstructed prehistoric flute, visit


A Question to Walk With: Listen to a song that moves you and trace its history. Then, in your journal, imagine the life of the person who wrote this song, and imagine the lives of all those who have sung this song. Try to feel and describe what you all have in common.

This excerpt is from my book, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living.


*Photo credit: Pixabay

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