This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

Archaeologists in China have found what is believed to be the world's oldest still-playable musical instrument: a 9,000-year-old flute carved from the wing bone of a crane.

When scientists from the United States and China blew gently through the mottled brown instrument's mouthpiece and fingered its holes, they produced tones that had not been heard for millenniums, yet were familiar to the modern ear.

"It's a reedy, pleasant sound, a little thin, like a recorder," said Garman Harbottle, a nuclear scientist who specializes in radiocarbon dating at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y.

Harbottle and three Chinese archaeologists published their findings in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The flute was one of several instruments to be uncovered in Jiahu, a excavation site of Stone Age artifacts in China's Yellow River Valley. Archaeologists also have found exquisitely wrought tools, weapons and pottery there.

Dated to 7000 B.C., the flute is more than twice as old as instruments used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and other early civilizations.

In all, researchers have found some three dozen bone flutes at Jiahu. Five were riddled with cracks big and small; 30 others had fragmented. The flutes have as many as eight neatly hollowed tone holes and were held vertically to play.

Scholars said the bone flutes provide further proof that prehistoric Chinese culture was not crude. Music played an integral role, perhaps combined with astronomical observations and other rituals that helped to rule their society, they said.


1. Where was the world's oldest still-playable musical instrument found?

2. Why was the 9,000-year-old instrument carved from the wing bone of a crane?

3. How did scientists test the bone flute to see whether it could produce sounds?

4. How can "tones that had not been heard for millenniums" be "familiar to the modern ear"?

5. Nuclear scientist Garman Harbottle compares the Jiahu flute to what other instrument? Describe the flute's sound.

6. Over the years, how many bone flutes have been found at Jiahu? How many were cracked?

7. What other artifacts have been uncovered at the excavation site in China?

8. The flute is believed to be twice as old as instruments used in which two early civilizations?

9. Why are music historians and archaeologists so interested in the find?

10. Do you think music plays an important role in our society? Explain.

Answer key (wording will vary):

1. The ancient flute was discovered at Jiahu, an excavation site in China's Yellow River Valley.

2. Answers will vary.

3. Researchers tested the flute by blowing through its mouthpiece and fingering its tone holes.

4. Answers will vary.

5. The bone flute reminds Harbottle of a recorder because it produces a thin, reedy sound.

6. In all, scientists have uncovered 36 Jiahu flutes. Five of them were riddled with cracks.

7. Besides instruments, archaeologists have found tools, weapons and pottery at the site.

8. Dated to 7000 B.C., the flute appears to be much older than instruments used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

9. Answers will vary.

10. Answers will vary.