Listen to the ‘scariest sound in the world’: Scientists recreate the noise of the Aztec Death Whistle that may have accompanied human sacrifices
It has been described as the ‘scariest sound in the world’ – somewhere between an eerie gust of 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 using a 3D printer.
They created their new whistles based on the design of the skull-shaped original, which was found with a skeleton in Mexico in the late 1990s.
It is thought that the skull-shaped whistle was used by the Aztecs before they were killed during ceremonies honoring the god of the wind, 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 thought that the death flutes were related to Ehecatl, the god of the wind.
He is usually depicted wearing two masks through which the wind blew and his temple was cylindrical because the wind blew in all directions.
In the 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 thought that the ancient culture sacrificed humans to pacify Ethecatl.
Death whistles were found in the hands of a sacrificed male skeleton in front of the temple of Ehecatl.
a new video of the 3D printed whistle was posted by the Action Lab, an educational YouTube channel dedicated to conducting science experiments.
“This is considered the most terrifying sound in the world,” says host James J. Orgill.
“Believe it or not, this is not a human scream.
“The sound the death whistle makes naturally strikes fear into your heart.”
It was in 1999 that the original Aztec Death Flute was found in the hand of a headless skeleton during the excavation of an Aztec temple in Mexico City.
“Archaeologists at first thought this must be some kind of toy, but they didn’t think much about it,” Orgill says in the new video.
‘It wasn’t until fifteen years later that for some reason a scientist blew into the hole above and this is the sound that came out.
“It was a surprising discovery because it sounded like a human screaming.”
Although the exact purpose of the death whistle is lost to history, there are several leading theories.
Some experts think the Aztecs probably used the sound 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 a variety of materials like resin, ceramic and even carbon fiber
In 1999, the original Aztec Death Flute was found in the hand of a skeleton during the excavation of an Aztec temple in Mexico City.
Spectrogram of the sound waves of the death whistle, which makes a sound like a screeching zombie
Perhaps the original skeleton was buried along with the device as protection, to scare away evil spirits as they left this world.
But the whistles may also have been used by warriors to “sow fear in the hearts of the enemies” at the start of battle, Orgill claims.
According to the expert, the shape of the whistle mimics the shape of a human larynx.
Once the user blows into it, the air is split in two, creating oscillating sound waves that circulate around a large chamber before escaping from a second hole.
Some whistles 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 with a 3D printer from the American company HeyGears.
They produce different sounds depending on how large the object is and where exactly they are placed on the lips when blown into it.
People can already buy their own death whistles on Amazon, made from different materials such as resin, ceramic and even carbon fiber.
According to one Amazon product descriptionthey “emit a scream that sounds like a woman is in terrible pain” and are “perfect for Halloween.”
They also make a useful tool for dramatic productions, for example for scenes where characters hear a scream offstage.
It is thought that the death flutes were related to Ehecatl, the god of the wind. He is usually depicted wearing two masks through which the wind blew and his temple was cylindrical because the wind blew 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 if you’re not actually looking at the person blowing the whistle,” says Orgill.
“(This is) probably because your brain knows it’s a whistle.”
The Aztec Death Flute caught the attention of archaeologists because of their skull shape, but only recently has their terrifying sound been explored.
Mexican musician Quijas Yxayotl believes the death whistle was used for special ceremonies, including the Day of the Dead, and in warfare.
‘They played over a hundred instruments; Marching a hundred death whistles 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 migrant people from the desert north who arrived in Mesoamerica in the 13th century.
This previously nomadic tribe was not welcomed by the local residents, who viewed them as inferior and undeveloped.
Legend says that as a result, the Aztecs wandered around, waiting for a sign telling them where to settle.
In 1325 AD, this sign, an eagle and a snake fighting on a cactus, was seen near 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 army 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 – also called Tacuba, located on the western shore of Lake Texococo – further strengthening the power of the Aztecs.
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 regions provided the opportunity to capture slaves who formed an important part of Aztec society.
Prosperity and unity within the Aztec peoples brought confidence. Under a succession of rulers, armies were sent further through Mexico.
By the early 16th century, the Aztec Empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and into Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The arrival in 1521 AD of Hernan Cortés with Spanish soldiers meant the end of the empire.
Source: The British Museum