It has been described as the “scariest sound in the world” – somewhere between an eerie whistling gust of wind and the “scream of a thousand corpses”.
Now experts have recreated the sound of the Aztec death whistle by using a 3D printer to build a new version of the legendary instrument.
They created their new pipes based on the design of the skull-shaped original, which was found along with a skeleton in Mexico in the late 1990s.
It is believed that the skull-shaped pipe may have been used by Aztecs before they were killed in ceremonies honoring the wind god Ehecatl.
In the Aztec creation myth, two gods gathered in a sacrificial fire and became the sun and moon, but remained motionless until Ehecatl blew on them.
Who was Ehecatl?
It is believed that the death whistles are related 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 gathered in a sacrificial fire and became the sun and moon. They were motionless until Ehecatl blew 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.
Death pipes were found in the hands of a sacrificed male skeleton in front of the Ehecatl Temple.
A new video of the 3D printed whistle was posted by Action Lab, an educational YouTube channel dedicated to conducting science experiments.
“This is considered the most terrifying sound in the world,” says presenter James J. Orgill.
“Believe it or not, that’s not a human scream.”
“The sound made by the death whistle inherently strikes fear in your heart.”
In 1999, during an excavation of an Aztec temple in Mexico City, the original Aztec death pipe was found in the hand of a headless skeleton.
“Archaeologists first thought it must be some kind of toy, but they didn’t think much about it,” Orgill says in the new video.
“It wasn’t until 15 years later that a scientist for some reason blew into the hole at the top and this sound came out.”
“It was a startling discovery because it sounded like a person screaming.”
Although the exact purpose of the death whistle is no longer known in history, there are several leading theories.
Some experts believe that the Aztecs probably used the noise to ease the journey to the afterlife for people’s souls when they were sacrificed.
Now people can buy their own death whistle on Amazon, made from a variety of materials like resin, ceramic, and even carbon fiber
In 1999, during an excavation of an Aztec temple in Mexico City, the original Aztec death pipe was found in the hand of a skeleton
Spectrogram of the sound waves of the death whistle, which sounds like a screaming zombie
Perhaps the original skeleton was buried with the device as protection to scare away evil spirits when they left this world.
Orgill claims that the pipes could also have been used by warriors to “scare the enemy” at the start of battle.
The shape of the whistle mimics the shape of a human larynx, the expert said.
Once the user blows into it, the air is split in two, creating oscillating sound waves that circulate in a large chamber before escaping through a second hole.
Some pipes have a ball in the chamber, often made of cork, that bounces around and further distorts the sound.
During the video, Orgill tests modern versions of the Aztec death whistle, made using a 3D printer from US company HeyGears.
They produce different sounds depending on how big the object is and where exactly they are placed on the lips when blown on.
On Amazon, people can already buy their own death whistles made from various materials such as resin, ceramic, and even carbon fiber.
According to an Amazon product description, they “emit a scream that sounds like a woman in terrible agony” and are “perfect for Halloween.”
They are also a helpful prop for dramatic productions – for example, scenes in which the characters hear a scream backstage.
It is believed that the death whistles are related 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. Pictured is a statue in the Brooklyn Museum (New York City).
“For some reason, the effect of making it sound like a scream is stronger when you don’t actually watch the person blow the whistle,” says Orgill.
‘[This is] probably because your brain knows it’s a whistle.’
The Aztec death whistle caught the attention of archaeologists because of its skull shape, but its terrifying sound has only recently been studied.
Mexican musician Quijas Yxayotl believes that the death whistle was used in special ceremonies such as the Day of the Dead and in warfare.
“They played over a hundred instruments; “A hundred death whistles march out to create 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 an immigrant people from the northern desert who came to Mesoamerica in the 13th century.
This previously nomadic tribe was not welcomed by the locals as they viewed them as inferior and undeveloped.
Legend has it that the Aztecs then wandered around, waiting for a sign to tell them where to settle.
In 1325 AD, this sign, an eagle and a snake fighting on a cactus, was seen at Lake Texcoco – prompting 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 military became powerful and campaigns were fought and won.
The Triple Alliance was formed with the lords of Texcoco – located on the eastern shore of Lake Texococo – and Tlacopan – sometimes referred to as 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 capture prisoners.
They needed prisoners because they believed that the gods needed to be appeased with human blood and hearts to ensure that the sun rose every day.
Conquering new territories provided the opportunity to capture slaves, who were an important part of Aztec society.
Prosperity and unity within the Aztec peoples brought trust. Under a succession of rulers, armies were sent further through Mexico.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Aztec Empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and as far as Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The arrival of Hernan Cortés with Spanish soldiers in 1521 AD led to the end of the empire.
Source: The British Museum