Chavín de Huántar Archaeological Acoustics Project
An archaeoacoustic collaboration between Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and Archaeology/Anthropology


Above, left: Peruvian master musician Tito La Rosa performed the artifact instruments in 2008, demonstrating an impressive range of sounding techniques for these ancient shell horns.
Above, right: Dr. Perry Cook led systematic acoustical measurement sessions in 2008 at the Museo Nacional Chavín.

Video: Cobi van Tonder; Photos: José Luis Cruzado Coronel.

In September 2008, we made acoustic measurements of the Chavín Strombus galeatus marine shell horns, also known as "pututus", excavated from the ceremonial center at Chavín by Dr. John Rick and teams in 2001.

"Acoustic Analysis of the Chavín Pututus (Strombus galeatus marine shell trumpets)"
Perry R. Cook, Jonathan S. Abel, Miriam A. Kolar, Patty Huang, Jyri Huopaniemi, John W. Rick, Chris Chafe, John M. Chowning
Invited paper presented at 2nd Pan American/Iberian Meeting on Acoustics, Cancún, Mexico, November 2010.

ABSTRACT

In 2001, twenty Strombus galeatus marine shell trumpets were excavated at the 3,000 year-old ceremonial center at Chavín de Huántar, Perú, marking the first documented contextual discovery of intact sound-producing instruments at this Formative Period site in the Andean highlands. These playable shells are decorated and crafted for musical use with well-formed mouthpieces created by cutting the small end (spire) off and grinding/polishing the resulting opening. The shells are use-polished, and additionally modified with a v-shaped cut to the outer apical lip. We present an acoustic analysis of the measured response of each instrument, to a variety of excitations, at microphones placed in the mouthpiece, player's mouth, bore, bell, and surrounding near-field. From these measurements we characterize each instrument's sounding frequencies (fundamental and 1st overtone where possible), radiation pattern, and impedance, and we estimate the bore area function of each shell. Knowledge of the specific acoustic capabilities of these pututus allows us to understand and test their potential as sound sources in the ancient Chavín context, whose architectural acoustics are simultaneously studied by our research group.

 

October 2011: Dr. Perry Cook and researcher Miriam Kolar discuss measuring and studying the Chavín pututus.

 

"Pututus, Resonance and Beats: Acoustic Wave Interference Effects at Ancient Chavín de Huántar, Perú"
Miriam A. Kolar

Presentation in Session 4pAAa: "Architectural Acoustics and Speech Communication: Acoustic Trick-or-Treat: Eerie Noises, Spooky Speech, and Creative Masking", at the Acoustical Society of America 168th Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, 30 October 2014.

ABSTRACT

Acoustic wave interference produces audible effects observed and measured in archaeoacoustic research at the 3,000–year–old Andean Formative site at Chavín de Huántar, Perú. The ceremonial center’s highly–coupled network of labyrinthine interior spaces is riddled with resonances excited by the lower–frequency range of site–excavated conch shell horns. These pututus, when played together in near–unison tones, produce a distinct "beat" effect heard as the result of the amplitude variation that characterizes this linear interaction. Despite the straightforward acoustic explanation for this architecturally enhanced instrumental sound effect, the performative act reveals an intriguing perceptual complication. While playing pututus inside Chavín’s substantially intact stone–and–earthen–mortar buildings, pututu performers have reported an experience of having their instruments’ tones "guided" or "pulled" into tune with the dominant spatial resonances of particular locations. In an ancient ritual context, the recognition and understanding of such a sensory component would relate to a particular worldview beyond the reach of present–day investigators. Despite our temporal distance, an examination of the intertwined acoustic phenomena operative to this architectural–instrumental–experiential puzzle enriches the interdisciplinary research perspective, and substantiates perceptual claims.