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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 9:03 am 
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A relative of my wife's found an old hand-crafted bone whistle in the rubble of the ruins of a fortified watch-tower on the southern shores of Lake Geneva. It may have been made by anyone from a 20th-century shepherd to a lonely Roman legionary.

I have posted photos and a description here https://greenandmusty.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/bone-whistle/

I would welcome the input of any Chiffster who can help with information on the whistle, including how I might get it to make music, whether it is tuned to a known mode and above all any suggestions as to its origin (including anything from the past or living musical tradition it may come from to the type of animal from whose bone it was made) and age.

I would like to centralise all discussion from members on this thread, and will cross-post links on other fora to direct discussion to this thread.

Thank you.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 9:17 am 
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You probably want C14 testing done to establish an solid age bracket but these things have been know to date anywhere from 35.000 years back (like this one and more here) to the viking whistles found 'in that hole in Wood Quay' and on to the whistle Nick Adams made fro ma bone found in Spanish Point.

Nice find.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 9:55 am 
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It has a striking resemblance to some eagle bone whistles I put together for a tribe in Florida. They wanted them for ceremonies. It is my understanding that in the USA only Native Americans are able to keep eagle bones. They assured me as long as I returned them nothing would happen to me spiritually or legally.
As My Gumby suggested I would say have the age checked.
If you want to check the playability try to hold so all the holes are covered. Then gently blow into one end or the other to see if it leaks air. If it leaks you may need to seal it to play. I used wax to form fipple plugs in the ones I worked on with dental tools.
Fascinating find no matter what the age turns out to be.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:09 am 
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Mr. Gumby, was that the whalebone F whistle Paul McGrattan played on some program or other?

THIS IS TOTAL SPECULATION: I wonder if your example there is a transverse flute? Either one-handed with the left thumb plugging the top end and the RH four fingers playing notes, or two-handed with LH and RH index and middle fingers (stopped by a since-decayed wooden or pitch plug)? Okay, I'm outta here. But that's cool!

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Last edited by Cathy Wilde on Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:11 am 
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Quote:
It has a striking resemblance to some eagle bone whistles


I forgotto say something about determining the species of animal the boen came from. Swanbone whistles of an age are not unheard of.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:28 am 
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Thanks for your contribs. so far.

I did indeed think of carbon dating, but I don't know if the owner (a cousin of my wife's, who inherited the site from his father) would have access to the necessary facilities. He has been in touch with people from the museum in Geneva, and they might be willing to do this, but I suspect they would be more amenable if I can come up with any musical evidence to indicate that it might be of some antiquity.

I'll be seeing the owner soon and will see if he has any further contextual information.

A ring from the site with what has been described as a "Gothic inscription" has already been donated to Geneva museum. I understood this to refer to the Gothic invasion/Völkerwanderung rather than "Gothic script".

Most of the other finds are the inevitable shards of pottery or glass vessels, bits of bolts and locks etc. and some metal plates which he believes come from book bindings.

The site has been in the ownership of his family for just over 50 years. At the time of acquisition, it was a recreational/local-history project of his father, who read as much as he could find on the topic, but was just an amateur archaeologist, so I don't expect anything like stratigraphic info. In any event, the site had been picked over for centuries and not deemed important enough to warrant any protection at the time of acquisition.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:35 am 
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Cathy Wilde wrote:

THIS IS TOTAL SPECULATION: I wonder if your example there is a transverse flute? Either one-handed with the left thumb plugging the top end and the RH four fingers playing notes, or two-handed with LH and RH index and middle fingers (stopped by a since-decayed wooden or pitch plug)?


The latter interpretation seems more plausible to me. After failing to get a tone by stopping the mouth end with my lower lip, my immediate idea was to make a plug, as mentioned on the blog. That's the approach I intend to pursue as probably the most promising, trying varying sizes of windway. I am also thinking of trying a (totally reversible) Cillian Ó Briain tweak by fitting a new blade of light, flexible plastic, held in place with Blu-Tack, as close as possible to the existing rather ragged blade

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:38 am 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
Quote:
It has a striking resemblance to some eagle bone whistles


I forgotto say something about determining the species of animal the boen came from. Swanbone whistles of an age are not unheard of.


Either is possible, and there are plenty of swans on the lake which is just a few km away.

I suspect that it may be a shepherd's whistle and that the bone came from a sheep or goat, but I don't know enough about biology to know if this is true.

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PostPosted: Tue May 05, 2015 2:28 am 
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This is a type that is very typical of the Middle Ages. There are literally hundreds of them across most of Europe, from Britain to Poland, and probably Russia. There was a book published in German with a couple of hundred examples, from all over Northern Europe except Britain, as that was dealt with in any number of articles in specialist journals.
In any case, this is definitely a fipple flute, not a side flute. The number of fingerholes is quite common, they range from 2 (rare) 3 (by far the most common, leading a lot of people to speculate whether they were tabor pipes), 4 (quite common) 5 (rather rare) and 6 or even 7, very rare. They were nearly all made from sheep or goat tibia, a very few from deer tibia. The age is a bit unclear, but at least as early as the 4th c they are already present, with the bulk being from 12-13-14th c., and then declining, though there is at least one definitely known example from Sweden that is practically identical, that can be very securely dated to the early 19th c.
Oh, there are bird bone whistles, too. These are quite different in appearance, though. They tend to be much narrower, and far more uniform in diameter.


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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 9:29 am 
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Thanks, Yuri. That's very helpful.

The apparent non-tone hole at the bottom led me to speculate that it is a shepherd's (or goatherd's) whistle which could be carried on a thong around his neck.

Have you any idea what might be needed to make it playable? My best hunch is a plug at the mouth end, but as mentioned above I don't know if the blade has been damaged by grit etc.

Any further clues about the book? I do speak German, so language wouldn't be a problem.

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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 10:24 am 
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The most complete online description I have found thanks to Yuri's contribution is in the German version of Wikipedia. It uses the term Knochenflöte rather than Knochenpfeife.

Here's a link for those who don't have an umlaut on their keyboard: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knochenfl%C3%B6te

The article says that the medieval versions of such flutes are most commonly made of sheep's tibiae. The mouth end was blocked with a beeswax plug, and a windway was cut in this. It also contains the following, which is all the more interesting because the whistle I'm asking about was found is just a few dozen kilometres from the Swiss border (the largest French town nearby is Evian).

Die zumindest in der Schweiz vergleichsweise zahlreichen Funde auf Burgen könnten als Hinweis auf eine dort besonders gepflegte derartige Tradition dienen; entweder durch den Burgadel oder durch Sennen, die das burgeigene Vieh hüteten. Hirten bevorzugten einfache Melodien, wie unter anderem der Satz „Pastorale“ (italienisch: Hirtenlied) im Weihnachtskonzert von Arcangelo Corelli zeigt. Auch fahrende Musikanten kommen als Spieler auf Knochenflöten in Betracht. Auf mehrlochigen Instrumenten konnte ein geschickter Spielmann mit Gabelgriffen, Halbdeckungen der Löcher und Überblastechnik durchaus Melodien zum Besten geben. Insgesamt aber hat die Bohrung der Löcher kein System, dementsprechend tönen sie auch: Nur selten ergibt sich eine Tonleiter, meistens in sich unstimmig.

"Finds in castles, which are relatively common in Switzerland at least, suggest a particularly developed tradition, either among the castle nobility or among herdsmen who tended the castle livestock. Herdsmen preferred simple melodies, as indicated by the "Pastorale' (herdsman's song) in Arcangelo Corelli's Christmas concerto. There may also have been travelling musicians who used bone flutes. With multi-hole instruments, a skilled player using cross-fingering, half-holing and overblowing could do justice to a melody. Generally speaking, however, there is no system to the boring of the holes, and the pitch of the notes reflects this: there is rarely a scale, and where there is one, it is generally not internally in tune."

"My" chap seems not to have done a bad job boring his holes, so!

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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 12:46 pm 
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Making a modern replica (German commentary): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW1N-qahBxc

Interestingly, this is from Switzerland. Tools range from a hand-bowed drill to a Swiss army knife. The Benny Hill accelerations are deliberate.

He uses a whittled wooden Clarke's-style plug, which he says should stop just short of the window.

The binding shown towards the end of the clip was necessary because he split the bone when washing it out with hot water.

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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 3:44 pm 
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The book I mentioned is listed as the second down in the bibliography in the Wiki article. (Christine Brade etc etc).
There are scattered articles in various archaeological publications on the British examples, they require some work to hunt up. But if you are desperate, I can find at least some.
As to how you can make it sound... Hmmmm. In academic circles there would be eyebrows raised and disagreeing murmurs heard. This, to tell you the truth, is not a highly encouraged course of action. The reason being that any such interference tends to damage the original. Having said that, earlier researchers used plasticine plugs. It's reasonably non- intrusive. (however, it will totally change the chemistry of the walls. For example, if a future investigator will wish to analyse the walls to find if, for example wax or pitch has been used for a plug, after the plasticine treatment, forget it.) Of course, if you have no intentions of turning it over to a museum, well, you do what you like with it. Or, rather not you, but your relative. I have no idea what the law in Switzerland is on the subject, but it can hardly be called a treasure of national importance from the law's point of view, whatever it is. You might want to check it out, though, just to be sure.
Good luck.

And now I watched the video above. It's interesting how many people today will instinctively reverse the bone for a whistle. In fact the guy is doing a good job. It's just that the Medieval ones are invariably the other way round. The fipple is always in the thicker part of the bone. This way you get a deeper sound from the same bone, which is quite short to start with, and as a result, quite high-pitched. And I wouldn't use a raw bone, by the looks quite far gone with the ageing. You potentially can pick up some stuff from that "aged" marrow. I'd clean the bone a bit differently, and more thoroughly. (Since I do bone carving for a living, I know what I am talking about.)


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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 4:10 pm 
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Thanks, Yuri. What you've given me has been most helpful, no need to hunt further.

So far, all I have used is a ball of bread white which I rolled between my fingers to fashion a plug, as he showed it to me during a meal and that was the only material to hand. The bone appeared completely clean, once all the grit had been removed, and I'm not sure that even a microscopic examination would reveal what the original plug was made of.

The property it was found on is in a border region, geographically part of the Geneva basin but actually in France - and that's only since 1860, as it was previously attached to Italy. Just as well it's a bit of bone, and not a gold hoard. As far as I know, all his archaeological contacts have been with the museum in Geneva. He was told that what his father did over some 40 years in terms of both excavation and construction would not now be allowed, but at the time when he started there was no objection. So it's not a key protected site, it was little more than a pile of rubble when his father bought it. I'll be seeing him next week, so will see what he knows if anything new since I last saw him.

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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 4:19 pm 
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Does that mean that the one I have is of medieval pattern or not? The fipple end is where the external dimensions of the bone are greater. The wall gets thinner as it flares out at that end, but seems to be of pretty much the same thickness from the window to the bell end. quite honestly, I was surprised that he did it the way he did, but that may just be because I see it as a whistle rather than a horn.

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