Archaeologist Steven Mithen explains in CosmoCaixa how Neanderthals sang and the origins of music

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Music is part of everyday life of humans long before we can imagine. Our ancestors were already using the music to communicate. The professor of archeology at the University of Reading, Steven Mithen, investigates the origins of language and gives music a huge importance in human evolution.

Mithen will explain in CosmoCaixa, that before the emergence of compositional language, consisting of words and grammar rules, Neanderthals had a prelinguistic a way to communicate based on variations of pitch, rhythm and timbre of their voices.

The talk “How did Neanderthals sing? The origins of music” is part of the lecture series “The music and its impact on the body and mind” organized by Obra Social “la Caixa” and the IDIBELL, under the coordination of Antonio Rodríguez-Fornells (IDIBELL-ICREA-UB).

Steven Mithen will be responsible for giving the go-to series “The music and its impact on the body and mind” with a lecture entitled “How did Neanderthals sing? Origins of music”, on Thursday January 31st at 7pm at CosmoCaixa. The talk will have the participation of the musician and inventor of instruments Xavier Lozano, so that we can get an idea of ​​the first musical instruments used by humans.

About Steven Mithen
Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading and researcher in computational cognitive archeology, Mithen uses in his studies anthropological, neurological and archaeological data which open a new path toward understanding the music that, according to Mithen, is as fundamental to humans as language.

Mithen is the author of several books, including “The singing Neanderthals” on the emergence and development of language and music along the evolutionary history of humankind.


The lecture series “The music and its impact on the body and mind” is organized by the Obra Social “la Caixa” and the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL). The sessions will take place in CosmoCaixa Barcelona from January 31st to June 4th, and will bring together internationally recognized experts like Steven Mithen, Sandra Trehub, Eckart Altenmuller, Jaume Ayats, Emmanuel Bigand and Josef Rauschecker. The series is coordinated by ICREA researcher at IDIBELL and the University of Barcelona, ​​Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells.

The activity aims to understand an amazing cultural phenomenon of our species: the music. The conference will discuss the origin of music and how it has evolved, from the time that one of our ancestors first built a flute to start producing the first sound, approximately 40,000 years ago, to the latest musical and technological transformations. The questions that arise about the music are numerous, from how to develop musical skills in babies to the common features of those with a talent for this art.

In fact, understanding music, their relationship and impact on our body through the expression of emotions, its value as a social and communication link, its evolution over time, history and cultural expressions, “will allow us to better understand where we are going in this area, both to understand future musical expressions to know why music is used in different contexts healing in many cultures”, explains Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells. The coordinator of the lecture series, group leader at the IDIBELL and UB Group of Cognition and Brain Plasticity, notes “the ability of music to stimulate brain plasticity and may contribute to the reorganization of neural circuits”.

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