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Ancient Music. Jelle Atema, CAS professor and director of the Boston University Marine Program in Woods Hole, Mass., has been studying and painstakingly re-creating ancient bone flutes. They may, he says, "allow us a unique acoustical window into the life, the sounds, and perhaps the music of our Paleolithic ancestors."

In an article entitled "The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music," recently published in Science, he describes three bone flutes -- the 4,000-year-old Flute of Veyreau, from the South of France, the Flute of Roque St. Christophe, dated at about 30,000 years, and the Neanderthal Flute of Divje Babe, dated at 53,000 years.

Atema's examination reveals that these are not simple panpipes, which consist of a series of short vertical pipes of graduated length bound together, but complex fipple flutes, which have a straight shape, a whistle mouthpiece, and finger holes, similar to our modern recorders. They require sophisticated technical knowledge and considerable manual skill to construct.

An accomplished flautist, Atema was able to play a range of music on the flutes, including both pentatonic and diatonic scales, or scale fragments. "We can play all sorts of music with them and some sound truly beautiful," he says, "but we cannot determine how our ancestors played those same instruments. The complexity of the flute construction and the potential for making a wide range of sounds, however, suggest that our ancestors found flute sounds important. Extrapolating from these data, it is likely that humans have played flute music for several hundred thousand years."

Risky Business. With three recent grants totaling more than million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, MED and SPH Associate Professor Jeffrey Samet is examining a range of connections between addictive behaviors and HIV infection.

The primary study aims to determine whether alcohol consumption and the hepatitis C virus, together or separately, are associated with more rapid disease progression in patients with HIV. The results are expected to provide information crucial to developing and prioritizing effective interventions for these patients.

A second study will look at a range of sexually transmitted diseases and quantify their incidence among patients who abuse drugs. The findings will be used to help target, diagnose, treat, and create prevention strategies for individuals in this population.

The third study, to take place in Russia, will examine the relationship between alcohol use and HIV infection within a population that has an extraordinarily high rate of alcoholism. It will focus in particular on the connection between alcohol use and behaviors that put people at increased risk for HIV infection.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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