Scientists were fascinated by the ghostly find: a human skeleton buried in an Aztec temple with a clay, skull-shaped whistle in each bony hand.
But no one blew into the noisemakers for nearly 15 years. When someone finally did, the shrill, windy screech made the spine tingle.
If death had a sound, this was it.
Roberto Velazquez believes the Aztecs played this mournful wail from the so-called Whistles of Death before they were sacrificed to the gods.
The 66-year-old mechanical engineer has devoted his career to recreating the sounds of his pre-Columbian ancestors, producing hundreds of replicas of whistles, flutes and wind instruments unearthed in Mexico’s ruins.
For years, many archaeologists who uncovered ancient noisemakers dismissed them as toys. Museums relegated them to warehouses. But while most studies and exhibits of ancient cultures focus on how they looked, Velazquez said the noisemakers provide a rare glimpse into how they sounded.
Click to hear some of the spine-tingling sounds of the ancient Aztecs
“We’ve been looking at our ancient culture as if they were deaf and mute,” he said. “But I think all of this is tied closely to what they did, how they thought.”
Velazquez is part of a growing field of study that includes archaeologists, musicians and historians. Medical doctors are interested too, believing the Aztecs may have used sound to treat illnesses.