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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Mayan Musical Instruments : Mayan Terracotta Figural Whistle
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Mayan Terracotta Figural Whistle - PF.6199
Origin: El Salvador
Circa: 300 AD to 900 AD
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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Originally, scholars once believed that such whistles were essentially toys. Perhaps their figural quality reinforced this misconception. Once such whistles were believed to be simple signaling objects or items for children to play with. However, recently, scholars have begun to realize the true importance of these whistles. When tombs were excavated containing over a dozen such whistles buried next to a ruler, suddenly historians confronted the fact that they were not dealing with playthings. In fact the various whistling implements of the Pre- Columbian Americas are as diverse as they are technically advanced. This little whistle is one of the more basic types. Essentially, it is a sculpture with a whistling leg attached onto the concave back. This whistle takes the form of a costumed warrior or shaman. He wears an elaborate headdress, parts of which have broken off, and holds a thick spear. A hole carved into the top of his headdress reveals that this whistle would have once been worn around the neck. Today, Mayan scholars believe that whistles, and music for that matter, played an integral part of Mayan religious ceremonies. This whistle might have sounded its tone in order to commemorate the deceased during a funeral procession. Thus, the work would have been buried alongside the body upon arriving at the grave. This is just one of the theories that attempts to explain the significance of such musical devices. Although no written records survive detailing the significance of these whistles, the works themselves are an ample testimony to the craftsmanship and technical mastery of ancient Mayan sculptors and instrument makers. - (PF.6199)


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