A series of bone whistles

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A series of bone whistles

Bone whistles are the most ancient musical instruments known. They are recorded from prehistoric times onwards, and are predecessors of the 'penny whistles' of the more recent past. Six bone whistles are known from Exeter, all but one from pits of the Norman period.

The whistles have been the subject of a study by Professor Vincent Megaw. He found that they were made from a variety of animal and bird bones including sheep, and probably deer and swan. Some were abandoned unfinished after being broken in manufacture. One (left) produced a range of notes. Prof. Megaw concluded that the whistle did not support the use of any one particular tonal system in the medieval period. He noted, however, that this was an especially well-finished and much-used object.

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