The oldest forms of art are documented in Europe by paintings preserved in the decorated caves of the Franco-Cantabrian area (Upper Palaeolithic, about 40000 years ago) The images and artefacts found in those caves inform us of the existence of special men specifically trained to paint, sculpt, lead dance and make music. In certain environmental conditions, such as those of the caves, the images have been preserved up to our time, and the discoverers found these environments in the same condition in which they were left by the last prehistoric visitor. While a rock painting can be seen in its original conditions even after thousands of years, the same thing can not happen for a dance or a musical sound that live only when they are performed. The only elements that provide evidence of prehistoric musical experience are the artifacts used to produce sounds found in archaeological excavations: flutes, pipes or whistles, bullroarers, drums. We can not completely reconstruct the nature of sound, the rhythm, the melody of prehistoric music. It is however possible, at least in part, to make sense of those sounds never heard by following four lines of inquiry: 1- the study of the musical forms and beliefs of primitive peoples who lived in an archaic dimension until a few decades ago; 2 – the study of the western traditional music, whose basic elements are part of a only archaic musical model; 3 – The sound instruments found in archaeological excavations; 4 – the identification of cognitive aspects that allow us to distinguish the knowledge of modern man from the archaic one.
Prehistoric man has been able to take advantage of the resonance properties of the cavities of the painted caves. In fact, the stalactites and stalagmites of many caves show the signs of repeated percussions probably occurred in order to produce sounds. Even today, the advantage offered by these limestone columns is that many of them, if beaten, produce the same extraordinary sounds, the same powerful bass gongs, the same subtle and crystalline sounds, performed 15,000 years ago.
When Cocopelli, god of happiness and fertility, walks on the land of the Navajo people playing his flute, the sun rises in the sky, the snow melts, the earth is covered with green, the birds sing songs of joy and all living creatures gather to hear his stories. (Anazasi rock engraving, New Mexico)
“Sunà de Mars” is a very common archaic ritual performed by the communities of the Alps. At the beginning of March, the inhabitants of many Alpine valleys go in procession through the pastures and ring horns and bells to awaken the grass. The inhabitants of Ardesio (upper Seriana Valley, Lombardy) on January 31st turn winter away with a ritual (“Scasada del Zenerù”) during which cowbells, horns and everything with which you can make a row produce a big noise to awaken nature from long winter sleep .