Creating a 40,000-year-old bone flute using 3D printing technology

When I was travelling in 2012, I saw a fragment of a bone flute in one of the European museums. The object was old and it piqued my interest. And it changed my understanding of music history. Before this encounter, I had associated the beginning of music history with ancient Greece and Rome. The fact is that people have played music for much longer than that.

By Ludwig Sugiri

bone flute
In 2008, Professor Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen, excavated fragments of bone flutes in Hohle Fels in Southern Germany. The stratigraphic positions and associated radiocarbon dates suggest that one of the bone flutes dates to ca. 40,000 years ago. The finding was published in Nature in 2009 and that discovery placed a new dot at the beginning of timeline of music history. I wanted to see with my own eyes the earliest musical instrument known to mankind.


A few days ago I experimented with our 3D printer and created a replica of the Hohle Fels bone flute. I love showing it to musicians, musicologists and music enthusiasts. We learn better when we have a tangible object that we can touch and feel, especially when we are telling a story of how music has existed since at least 40,000 years ago.


3D printing technology allows us to recreate objects of the past or things that are otherwise inaccessible or invisible to the naked eye. These objects can be used as effective teaching tools and can help with communicating research outcomes, leading to greater engagement.


Library 3D printers are available to all students and staff.

For more information see


Ludwig Sugiri is an Academic Liaison Librarian, Conservatorium Library