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 performed systematic acoustical measurements in 2008 at the Museo Nacional Chavín.
Video: Cobi van Tonder; Photos: José Luis Cruzado Coronel.
In 2019 and 2008, we made performance experiments and acoustical measurements of the Chavín Titanostrombus galeatus (formerly classified as Strombus Lobatus galeatus and Strombus galeatus) marine shell sound-producing horns, known in the Peruvian Andes as "pututus", excavated from the ceremonial center at Chavín by Dr. John Rick and teams in 2001 and 2018.
Our journal articles, conference papers, and interviews about the Chavín pututus include:
Yale Journal of Music & Religion Article 4, Volume 5, Number 2 (2019): Music, Sound, and the Aurality of the Environment in the Anthropocene: Spiritual and Religious Perspectives
Pututus (conch-shell musical horns) are known in the Andes as annunciatory devices enabling their players to call across long distances. However, the sonic and gestural versatility possible in pututu performance constitutes dynamical evidence for nuanced archaeological interpretations of these multifaceted and ritually associated instruments. Pututus were documented in texts with drawings created during the Spanish conquest and colonization of the Andes, and intact shell horns have been excavated from monumental architecture in Perú preceding the Inca by more than two millennia. At the Andean Formative center at Chavín de Huántar, Perú, whose well-preserved ceremonial complex was active during the first millennium BCE, pututus were depicted in stone and on decorated ceramics. To date, 21 intact shell horns have been excavated at this UNESCO World Heritage site. The use-worn, identity-projecting, and symbolically notched Chavín pututus provide physical and acoustical evidence for functional interpretations of a multimodal ritual communication technology. In this article, I take a cross-disciplinary approach to examine the Chavín pututus with respect to site archaeology and its particular Andean highland setting, exploring the intersection of their materiality and dynamical potential, in context.
Chavín’s built environment and associated materials evince past strategies for environmental negotiations that foreshadow present-day discourse regarding the Anthropocene. I argue that Chavín’s site-excavated Strombus pututus were tools for ritual communication that link diverse ecologies with human interventions toward environmental control. Intrinsic to site ritual, the Chavín pututus were pivotal in the expression of human-ecological (re)positionings. Archaeological engagement of both sonic and environmental concerns is at stake in my exploration of human-environmental interdynamics and their conceptualization, rooted in the material culture of monumental Chavín and its setting. The human-environmental positionality of Chavín’s monumental architecture relates to the ecological materiality of pututus in their anthropic transposition from marine animal to (super)human vocal transformer and proxy: a technology of air transformation and wind interaction as well as sound production. Environmental interventions via Chavín architecture and performance using these multimodal instruments manifest strategic realizations of human dominance while communicating negotiation within its flow-directing ritualscape. The Chavín pututus harbor cosmological significance whose details are mired in the uncertainty of archaeology, yet whose materiality conveys reference and function: they are communication instruments that interrelate humans and ecosystems. In the ancient Andes, the Chavín pututus functioned as ritual technologies for humans asserting agency in ordering their cosmos.
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.
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.
"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.
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.