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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Cherokee - the Birthplace of Music?

Friday, January 2, 2009

- An interview with Jimmy Davis,musician, singer/songwriter and co-owner of The Gathering Place-

BC: I often wonder why there is such amazing musical talent in northwest Iowa. And why a small town in Iowa has a Jazz and Blues Festival in January.

Davis: Maybe there's something in the water. Or, is it possible that "Cherokee is the Birthplace of Music"?

January was the primary time when migratory clans or tribes would pass through and set up winter camp to hunt. In those days buffalo were coming off the high plains in search of smaller grasses that grow along the river. So maybe it's a natural time for people to come together.

I grew up with the Mill Creek in my back yard -- my brothers used to find pottery and arrowheads along the creek bed. I'm not one to look for artifacts but have always been curious about the Mill Creek people.

One day I went to the (Cherokee) library and ran across "Cherokee Excavations," by Holmes A. Semken. The book was published in 1980. From that book, I found out that The Mill Creek Culture dates back to 1,000-1250 A.D., and for the first time I learned about an excavation widely known as the "Sewer Dig".

Jimmy Davis

It seems that in 1973, with the expansion of the Cherokee Community Sewer System, workers who were constructing a berm kicked up a bunch of bones. The berm is located on the River Road in an area called the Corrington Flat.

'Dozers were stopped and a call went out to the Sanford Museum in Cherokee. A dig was quickly organized, and financed through the University of Iowa." This excavation went on for 2 or 3 years, and during that time they unearthed cultural horizons (remains) that dated back at least 10,000 years. So we know there have been people living in the Little Sioux River Valley for at least that long.

On one of the horizons dating about 6,350 years ago they found a bird bone flute that actually plays -- the oldest known artifact of its type in the state. It's from a bird leg bone and you can see the holes. It's thought that the bird was a predecessor to the Trumpeter Swan.

A sketch of the "bone flute" unearthed near Cherokee in the 1970s.
There have only been 3 or 4 other musical instruments found on the North American Continent that date further back -- they are drums or percussion - not tonal instruments.

in mid-continent in Middle America with the oldest known tonal musical instrument -- found among buffalo bones."

The University of Iowa owns the Bird Bone Flute, and it's on display with the Office of the State Archaeologist. The University briefly returned the flute for the Cherokee Sesquicentennial. It arrived in a special case and no one could touch it. However, there is an exact replica of the Bird Bone Flute at the Sanford Museum here in Cherokee.

So it's possible that man heard instrumental music for the very first time right here in Northwest Iowa.

Maybe Cherokee is the birthplace of music.

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