The Journal of the Acoustical Society of American|
Peruvian Whistling Bottles
Copyright ©1977 The Acoustical Society of America|
by Steven Garrett
Daniel K. Stat
Department of Physics, UCLA,
Los Angeles, California 90024
Museum of Cultural History, UCLA,|
Los Angeles, California 90024
Measurements were made of the frequency and sound
pressure level from 73 ceramic whistling bottles blown by compressed
air. The bottles represent nine pre-Columbian civilizations which
inhabited the north and central coasts and highlands of Peru during
a 2000-year time span from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1550. We have found
that Peruvian whistling bottles group acoustically by culture. The
bottles are generally regarded by anthropologists as utilitarian liquid
containers with the whistle providing an amusing method of venting.
We are suggesting an alternative interpretation of the bottles as
having been specifically produced as whistles. We base this
interpretation on the clustering of frequencies by individual cultures,
the fact that the frequencies fall in the region of the ear's greatest
sensitivity, and the high sound pressure levels produced by the
bottles when blown orally.|
Ceramic whistling bottles were produced on the north and central
coasts and highlands of Peru for two thousand years beginning ca.
500 B.C. and continuing until shortly after the Spanish conquest
of Peru in 1532. Anthropologists generally regard the bottles as
utilitarian containers with the whistle providing an amusing vent
to facilitate the passage of air when pouring and filling with liquid.1-5
It has also been suggested that these bottles were used as whistles, possibly in a
ritual context.3, 6-8
The specimens tested in this study were found at gravesites by
huaqueros (graverobbers) and there is nothing in the
Spanish Chronicles of the New World or in the pre-Columbian
Peruvian iconography that suggest their original use.
We have collected data on the harmonic structure of the sounds
from 73 whistling bottles. The 73 bottles represent nine cultures
from the north and central coasts and highlands of Peru, encompassing
a time span from ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 1550.
One of us (D.K.S.) assembled 73 whistling bottles from private
collections, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History,
and UCLA's Museum of Cultural History. All but three bottles
were identified on the basis
of physical appearance by Christopher B. Donnan, Director of
UCLA's Museum of Cultural History, as belonging to one of the
nine cultures listed in Table I. (Table I and Figures 1 - 3,
6 - 7 will eventually be included).
Three bottles could not be assigned to a specific culture without
ambiguity and four bottles had been restored. The integrity of
the orginial acoutical signatures of the four restored bottles could
not be assured and these were not included in the sample. Of the
69 bottles included in the sample, 53 were double chambered
(Figs. 1 and 2), 14 were single chambered (Fig.3), one was four
chambered, and one was six chambered (Fig.3). The four bottles
not included in the sample because of restoration were all double
All of the whistling bottles tested were made of ceramic. The
physical dimensions are 15-30 cm high, 20-30 cm long, and
10-20 cm wide. The bottles are comprised of one or more
chamber(s) connected by an upper bridge handle, often containing
the whistle, and a lower pottery tube that enables liquid or air
to flow from one chamber to the other (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5). The lower
tube is the sole connection between the chambers through which liquid
or air can flow. The single chambered bottles are surmounted by a
tubular spout connected to an effigy by a bridge handle (Fig.3). When
the bridge handle contains the actual whistle (hereafter referred to as
the "exposed-type"), the whistle is "sounded" by means of an air stream
which exits the effigy chamber through a small aperture in that chamber
In the case of the "enclosed-type" whistle, the whistle cavity is contained
within the effigy itself (Fig. 5).
The dimensions of the whistle cavities of seven Chimú bottles were
measured by filling the cavities with water from a syringe to determine
their volume. The effective diameter and length of their orifices
were measured with a steel rule. Since the whistles were in some
cases partially obscured by other features of the bottles and their
orifices did not always have circular cross sections, uncertainties in
measuring the diameters and/or lengths were occasionally as high
as 30%. The Helmholtz frequencies fhof the seven
bottles were calculated from the following expression, with an
effective lengthl' with a correction which is a compromise
between that for a flanged and unflanged tube.
fh= (c/2 pi)(S/l' V)1/2,
where S = 1/4 pi d2, d is the average diameter
of the orifice, V is the volume of whistle cavity, l' = l + 0.7d,
and c is the speed of sound in air. Cavity volumes were typically
0.6 to 1.0 cm3; orifice diameters were 3.5 - 4.5 mm, and
orifice lengths, determinded by the thickness of the ceramic, ranged from
1 - 3 mm. Averaged over the seven bottles, the deviation of the calculated
frequencies from the measured frequencies was less than 7%. This is
excellent agreement in consideration of the uncertainties in measuring
the small physical dimensions of the whistle cavities.
With respect to the multiple chambered bottles, the traditional explanation
for the whistle's function is that it acts as an air vent to permit the flow of
liquid from one chamber to the other. In the case of the single chambered
bottles, the function of the whistle is again that of an amusing way to vent
the vessel. When a bottle containing liquid is returned to an upright
position after a portion of its liquid is poured from the tubular spout, the
remaining liquid, seeking its own level, displaces the air in the effigy
chamber. This produces an air stream which is directed across the whistle's
The current interpretation is that whistling bottles were "sounded" in this
manner by means of a displacement of air by liquid. However, when a
bottle is "sounded" in this way, the tone produced is barely audible,
not at all the intense sound created when a bottle is blown orally through
the tubular spout. When a whistle is "sounded" orally the chamber(s)
act as a surge tank to reduce wavering in the tone which may occur
because of slight short-term variations in pressure at the spout.
The bottles were placed in an anechoic chamber and pressurized air
was used to produce the tones (Fig. 6). A
Brüel & Kjær 2203 sound-level meter was suspended
inside the chamber approximately 10 cm from the whistle in a position
close to where a person's ear would be if the vessel had been blown
orally. The air flow was then adjusted to give the maximum wide-band
sound pressure level as indicated on the sound-level meter. We chose
the maximum sound pressure level as the place to measure the frequency
of the bottles for two reasons. The first being that it was always a unique
point for each bottle. The volume flow rate of air or the blowing pressure
varied from bottle to bottle and depended on physical properties of each
bottle that were irrelevant to the actual whistle. The excess static
pressure at the spout necessary to achieve the maximum sound varied
from 1 - 3 kilopascals above ambient pressure, 10 - 3- cm of water as
measured by a water filled U-tube. The necessary pressure was
the same whether the bottle was blown orally or by compressed air. The
second reason was that the blowing pressure necessary to achieve
maximum sound pressure level was always low enough so that a person
could sustain this maximum level for 15 - 20 sec. The maximum sound
pressure level for each bottle was recorded and the average sound
pressure level for all bottles from a single culture is reported in
Table I under L. "Delta" L is the standard deviation of the
sound pressure levels for each culture.
The output of the sound level meter was connected to a Hewlett-Packard
model 3580-A Spectrum Analyzer with its bandwidth set at 10 Hz. The
frequencies and relative sound pressure levels of the fundamental and
partials for each bottle was recorded. The sound pressure level of the
fundamental for each bottle is plotted against its frequency in
Fig. 7. The average frequency of the fundamental for all bottles in a single
culture is listed under f in Table I and the standard deviation of
the fundamentals from that culture is listed under "delta" f. In
the case of double-noted whistles, the frequency of the partial with the
highest sound pressure level was chosen for calculating the averages
in Table I and plotting the frequencies of the bottles in Fig. 7.
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The partials were harmonics of the fundamental and typically decreased
monotonically with increasing frequency. The fundamental was typically
60 dB above the noise level which was produced by the sound of the air
rushing out of the bottle. In some cases as many as seven partials were
IV. Discussion and Conclusion
An examination of the frequency data in Table I and Fig. 7 strongly suggests
that the nine cultures represented produced whistles in a frequency
range specific to the particular culture which produced the bottles. The
standard deviation for any one culture is significantly less than the
standard deviation for the entire sample. The average frequency is not
the sole distinguishing cultural characteristic of the bottles. In 20 of the
69 bottles in the sample, the whistle was contained within the effigy
chamber. All 14 bottles from the Gallinazo, Vicus, Moche, and Huari
cultures spanning a time period from 400 B. C. to A. D. 700 were of
this "enclosed-type." In addition
two of the four bottles not included in the sample because of restoration
were "enclosed-type" whistles and both of these were from the Vicus
culture as well. Of the remaining six "enclosed-type" whistles two were
unspecified culturally, three were Chimú, and one was an Inca
Fourteen whistles produced two distinct tones depending on the blowing
pressure applied at the spout. A lower frequency tone, with a frequency
0.65±0.1 times the higher frequency tone, is produced when the
blowing pressure is reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 of the pressure necessary to
produce the tone of maximum sound pressure level. The wide-band
sound pressure level of the lower frequency tone is typically 4 - 16 dB
less than the tone of maximum sound pressure level for these
Thirteen of the 14 double-noted whistles were of the "enclosed-type,"
and one was of the "exposed-type." The single "exposed-type"
double-noted whistle was from the Inca culture. Nine of the 14
double-noted whistles belonged to the Gallinazo, Vicus, Moche,
or Huari cultures. Additionally, the two restored Vicus whistles
not included in the sample were also double-noted "enclosed-type"
whistles. Of the remaining five double-noted whistles, one was
Chimú, two were Inca, and two were unspecified culturally.
Only one of 50 examples where the whistle was of the "exposed-type"
produced a double note and this was the Inca example mentioned
above. All three examples from the Recuay culture, spanning a time
period of A. D. 100 through A. D. 500 were single-noted "exposed-type"
whistles. All but three of 48 examples of Chancay, Chimú, and
Inca cultures spanning a time period of A. D. 700 through A. D. 1550,
produced a single tone irrespective of the air pressure, and all but
four of the 48 were of the "exposed-type." The four which were of
the "enclosed-type" were three Chimú, and one Inca. One of the
"enclosed" Chimú and the Inca "enclosed" were double-noted.
Two "enclosed" Chimú were single-noted, and one "exposed-type"
Inca was double-noted as mentioned above.
The average frequency of the Gallinazo, Vicus, Moche, and Huari
whistling bottles is 1320 Hz while the average frequency for the Recuay
bottles is 2000 Hz. The average frequency for the Chancay, Chimú,
and Inca bottles is 2670 Hz. It is apparent that the earlier cultures
tended to produce double-noted, low-frequency, "enclosed-type" whistles
while the later cultures generally produced single-noted, high-frequency,
"exposed-type" whistles. In that the frequency is determined by the
whistle cavity and not the pottery style, the frequency would be an
additional method for determining cultural origins of whistling bottles.
On the basis of these data we suggest the possibility of using the
frequency and type of whistle (enclosed vs exposed) as an additional
means for determining cultural origins of Peruvian whistling bottles.
Reconsideration of Table I and Fig. 7 show that the frequencies of
the bottles produced by a single culture tend on the average to be
within ± 14% of the average frequency for that individual
culture. On the basis of the small fraction of an octave spanned by
the frequencies of all bottles in any single culture we are reasonably
certain that the bottles were not used as musical instruments. However,
when two or more bottles from a given culture are played simultaneously
the perception of a wavering low frequency tone is very distinguishable.
The clustering of frequencies by individual culture, the position of the
frequencies in the region of the ear's greatest sensitivity (1 - 4 kHz), and
the high sound levels produced by the bottles when blown orally,
strongly suggest that the Peruvians produced whistling bottles as
whistles - as contrasted to the traditional interpretation of them as
utilitarian liquid containers.
We would like to thank Professor Isadore Rudnick for the use of his
laboratory and many stimulating suggestions. We wish to thank also,
Dr. Charles Rozaire for making available the collections of the Los
Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and Professor Christopher
B. Donnan for helping to identify the sample and for making available
the collections of UCLA's Museum of Cultural History. We also
gratefully acknowledge the graphics by Patrick Finnerty, the photographs
by Jas. Abbott, and the help of Gary Olsen and Scott Adams during the
collection of the acoustical data. Finally, we thank Dr. R. W. Young for
his helpful comments during the revision of the manuscript.
The Journal of the
Acoustical Society of America,
Vol. 62, No. 2,
Acoustical Society of America
500 Sunnyside Blvd.
Woodbury, New York 11797
(a) Address: Center for Integral Medicine, P.O. Box
955, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.|
[Addendum (24 Oct. 2012): Daniel K. Statnekov, (aka Daniel K. Stat)
1201 N. Orange Street, Suite 700, Wilmington, Delaware 19801.
(1) W.C. Bennett, "Archaeology of the Central Andes," in Handbook
of South American Indians, edited by J.H. Steward (Cooper Square,
New York, 1963), Vol. 2.
(2) C.W. Mead, Old Civilizations of Inca Land (American Museum
of Natural History, Handbook Series No. 11, New York, 1935).
(3) S. Martí, Instrumentos Musicales Precortesianos (Instituto Nacional de Anthropología e Historia, México, 1968), 2nd ed.,
(4) M.E. Rivero and J. J. von Tschudi, Translated by F. L. Hawkes,
Peruvian Antiquities (A. S. Barnes, New York, 1854; Krause Reprint Co.,
New York, 1971).
(5) A. H. Verrill, Old Civilization of the New World (Tudor,
New York, 1938).
(6) P. T. Furst, "Whistling Pots from Mexico and Peru," Quarterly
Los Angeles County Museum 3, No. 2, 10-14 (1964).
(7) K. G. Izikowitz, Musical and Other Sound Instruments of the
South American Indians (Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag Goteborg, Sweden,
1934; republished by S. R. Publishers Ltd., 1970).
(8) D. K. Stat, "Double Chambered
Whistling Bottles: A Unique Peruvian Pottery Form," J. Transpersonal
Psychology, 2, 157 - 162 (1974).