The ice-age instrument, which was carved out of a wooly-mammoth tusk, was found in a cave in the Swabian mountains of southwest Germany. It was found in fragments, and pieced back together.
Nicholas Conard, a T‹bingen University archaeologist, said of the discovery, "Ivory was the most beautiful material available back then. It's a clear clue that music was extremely important."
Whether the flute was meant for recreational or religious purposes in unclear, but its age does suggest to the archaeologists that music a part of human life far earlier than previously thought.
"The flute is a technical masterpiece," Conard said. "Nothing like this from the Paleolithic era has been found until now."
The Swabian mountains are thought to have been the site of winter and spring encampments for humans, and the cave complex where the flute was found appears to have been used for thousands of years. They have also been rich with other discoveries in recent years: ivory figurines, ornaments, and other instruments, including flutes made from swan bones.
The flute will be put on display in a Stuttgart museum.