It has been described as the “scariest sound in the world”, somewhere between a frightening gust of whistling wind and “the scream of a thousand corpses”.
Now experts have recreated the sound of the Aztec death whistle by building a new version of the legendary instrument with a 3D printer.
They created their new whistles based on the design of the original skull-shaped one, found with a skeleton in Mexico in the late 1990s.
It is believed that the skull-shaped whistle may have been used by the Aztecs before they were killed in ceremonies honoring the wind god, Ehecatl.
In the Aztec creation myth, two gods came together in a sacrificial fire and became the sun and the moon, but remained motionless until Ehecatl breathed on them.
Who was Ehecatl?
It is believed that the death whistles were linked to Ehecatl, the god of wind.
He is usually depicted with two masks through which the wind blew and his temple was cylindrical because the wind blows in all directions.
In myth, three gods came together in a sacrificial fire and became the sun and the moon. They stood still until Ehecatl breathed on them.
In a later legend, he helped sacrifice all the gods except one, who escaped to enlighten the world.
It is believed that the ancient culture sacrificed humans to pacify Ethecatl.
Deadly whistles were found in the hands of a male skeleton sacrificed in front of the Temple of Ehecatl.
A new video of the 3D printed whistle was released by Action Lab, an educational YouTube channel dedicated to performing science experiments.
“It has been considered the most terrifying sound in the world,” says presenter James J. Orgill.
“Believe it or not, this is not a human cry.
“The sound of the death whistle strikes fear in your heart.”
It was in 1999 that the original Aztec Death Whistle was found held in the hand of a headless skeleton during excavations of an Aztec temple in Mexico City.
“The archaeologists first thought it must be some kind of toy and they didn’t think much about it,” Orgill says in the new video.
“It wasn’t until 15 years later, for some reason, a scientist blew into the hole at the top and this is the sound that came out.”
“It was a surprising finding because it sounded like a human cry.”
Although the exact purpose of the death whistle has been lost to history, there are several prevailing theories.
Some experts believe the Aztecs likely used noise to help people’s souls travel to the afterlife when they were sacrificed.
Now people can buy their own death whistle on Amazon, made from various materials such as resin, ceramic, and even carbon fiber.
In 1999, the original Aztec death whistle was found held in the hand of a skeleton during excavations of an Aztec temple in Mexico City.
Sound wave spectrogram of the death whistle, which makes a noise similar to a screaming zombie
Perhaps the original skeleton was buried with the device as protection, to scare away evil spirits as they left this world.
But whistles could also have been used by warriors to “strike fear into the hearts of enemies” at the start of battle, Orgill says.
The shape of the whistle mimics the shape of a human larynx, according to the expert.
Once the user blows into it, the air is split in two, creating oscillating sound waves that flow around a large chamber before escaping out a second hole.
Some whistles have a ball inside the chamber, often made of cork, which bounces and further distorts the sound.
During the video, Orgill tests modern versions of the Aztec Death Whistle made using a 3D printer from the American company HeyGears.
They make different sounds depending on the size of the object and exactly where they are placed on the lips when blown.
People can already buy their own death whistles on Amazon made from various materials such as resin, ceramic and even carbon fiber.
According to an Amazon product descriptionthey “emit a scream that sounds like a woman in horrible pain” and are “perfect for Halloween.”
They are also a useful prop for dramatic productions, for example for scenes where the characters hear a scream off-stage.
It is believed that the death whistles were linked to Ehecatl, the god of wind. He is usually depicted with two masks through which the wind blew and his temple was cylindrical because the wind blows in all directions. In the photo, a statue from the Brooklyn Museum (New York City).
“For some reason, the effect of making it sound like a scream is stronger when you’re not actually watching the person blow the whistle,” says Orgill.
“(It’s) probably because your brain knows it’s a whistle.”
The Aztec death whistle has attracted the attention of archaeologists due to the shape of its skull, but only recently has its frightening noise been studied.
Mexican musician Quijas Yxayotl believes the death whistle was used in special ceremonies, including Day of the Dead, and in wars.
“They played more than a hundred instruments; a hundred deadly whistles on the march to cause a great psychological effect on the enemy,” he said.
WHO WERE THE AZTECS AND WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THEM?
The Mexica, later known as the Aztecs, were a migratory people from the northern desert who arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1300s.
This once nomadic tribe was not well received by the local inhabitants who considered them inferior and underdeveloped.
Legend has it that as a result, the Aztecs wandered around waiting for a sign telling them where they should settle.
In 1325 AD, this sign, an eagle and serpent fighting on a cactus, was seen at Lake Texcoco, inspiring the Aztecs to found their capital, Tenochtitlan.
By 1430 AD, the Aztecs had assimilated aspects of the surrounding tribes and developed into a structured society.
Their army grew powerful and campaigns were fought and won.
The Triple Alliance was created with the lords of Texcoco – located on the eastern shore of Lake Texococo – and Tlacopan – sometimes called Tacuba, located on the western shore of Lake Texococo – further strengthening Aztec power.
The Aztecs went to war for two main reasons: to demand tribute and to capture prisoners.
They needed prisoners because they believed that the gods had to be appeased with blood and human hearts for the sun to rise each day.
The conquest of new regions made it possible to capture slaves who made up an important part of Aztec society.
Prosperity and unity among the Aztec people brought confidence. Under a succession of rulers, armies were sent further into Mexico.
By the early 1500s, the Aztec empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, including Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The arrival in 1521 of Hernan Cortés with Spanish soldiers brought about the end of the empire.
Source: The British Museum