Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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Flutopedia Symposium

Venus of Lespugue

There are many challenges to interpreting ancient artifacts in the context of music. One challenge is that many aspects of music relate closely to fundamental mathematical ratios. Octave intervals have frequency ratios of 2:1, intervals of fifths are (or are close to) 3:2, fourths are 4:3, and most other intervals can be rendered as simple ratios. Those ratios appear in many disciplines, especially in art and archetecture. This makes it difficult to distingush the intent of a written text: does it refer to music, mathematics, or architecture?

One example of this ambiguity relates to the proportions of Venus of Lespugue [les-poo-guh] (pronunciation from Forvo). This 6-inch high sculpture of tusk ivory was discovered in 1922 in a cave in the Pyrenees in present-day Southern France. It dates to 24000-22000 BCE, well before any known system of writing had been established.

Ralph H. Abraham and William I. Thompson conjecture that the proportions of the statue are so close to the ratio of frequencies of the Dorian scale, that this is evidence of a prehistoric awareness of music ([Abraham-RH 2006]).

Conjecture relating the proportions ot the Venus of Lespugue sculpture to the frequencies of the Dorian scale

Conjecture relating the proportions ot the Venus of Lespugue sculpture
to the frequencies of the Dorian scale, re-drawn from [Abraham-RH 2006] Larger image

From this evidence, Abraham and Thompson maintain that the relationship of the proportions lends credence to their hypothesis that:

We are faced with the need to upgrade our estimation of the cultural advancement of paleolithic people … that advanced arithmetic preceded writing, and demands a rethinking of prehistoric mathematics and music.

 
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