Bone aerophones from Eynan-Mallaha (Israel) indicate imitation of raptor calls by the last hunter-gatherers in the Levant.
Direct evidence for Palaeolithic sound-making instruments is relatively rare, with only a few examples recorded from Upper Palaeolithic contexts, particularly in European cultures. However, theoretical considerations suggest that such artefacts have existed elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, evidence for sound production is tenuous in the prehistoric archaeological record of the Levant, the study of music and its evolution being sparsely explored. Here we report new evidence for Palaeolithic sound-making instruments from the Levant with the discovery of seven aerophones made of perforated bird bones in the Final Natufian site of Eynan-Mallaha, Northern Israel. Through technological, use-wear, taphonomic, experimental and acoustical analyses, we demonstrate that these objects were intentionally manufactured more than 12,000 years ago to produce a range of sounds similar to raptor calls and whose purposes could be at the crossroads of communication, attracting hunting prey and music-making. Although similar aerophones are documented in later archaeological cultures, such artificial bird sounds were yet to be reported from Palaeolithic context. Therefore, the discovery from Eynan-Mallaha contributes new evidence for a distinctive sound-making instrument in the Palaeolithic. Through a combined multidisciplinary approach, our study provides important new data regarding the antiquity and development of the variety of sound-making instruments in the Palaeolithic at large and particularly at the dawn of the Neolithic in the Levant.