Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Whistle of Death

Ah, the daily cacophony of life! We've got churchbells,fireworks, parrots, dogs, bagpipes, loudspeakers, more loudspeakers...oh, and did I mention we live across the street from two elementary schools? That's one building shared by two distinct schools, which hold complete school days one after the other, which gives us twelve full hours a day of screaming children, ringing bells, and the Mexican National Anthem.

So we weren't really surprised to find out that this obliviousness to noise is an ancient historical tradition here.

Noisemakers made of clay, turkey feathers, sugar cane, frog skins and other natural materials were an integral part of pre-Columbian life, found at nearly every Mayan site.

The Aztecs sounded the low, foghorn hum of conch shells at the start of ceremonies and possibly during wars to communicate strategies. Hunters likely used animal-shaped ocarinas to produce throaty grunts that lured deer.

The modern-day archaeologists who came up with the term Whistles of Death believe they were meant to help the deceased journey into the underworld, while tribes are said to have emitted terrifying sounds to fend off enemies, much like high-tech crowd-control devices available today.

Experts also believe pre-Columbian tribes used some of the instruments to send the human brain into a dream state and treat certain illnesses. The ancient whistles could guide research into how rhythmic sounds alter heart rates and states of consciousness.

..."My experience is that at least some pre-Hispanic sounds are more destructive than positive, others are highly trance-evocative," said Arnd Adje Both, an expert in pre-Hispanic music archaeology who was the first to blow the Whistles of Death found in the Aztec skeleton's hands. "Surely, sounds were used in all kind of cults, such as sacrificial ones, but also in healing ceremonies."

I certainly understand how certain sounds can lead a man to cut the still-beating heart out of another's chest.

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