There’s a 1,200-year-old Phone in the Smithsonian Collections
By Neil Baldwin | Smithsonian
As a nomadic cultural historian, my subjects have led me in wildly different directions. I spent every Friday for five years in a dim, dusty reading room in West Orange, New Jersey, formerly a laboratory on the second floor of Thomas Edison’s headquarters, deciphering the blunt-penciled scrawls of the celebrated inventor. Two years after my biography of Edison appeared, I found myself laboring up vertiginous stairs at daybreak in Mexico, photographing the faded ocher outlines of winged snakes etched into stone temples at the vast ruins of Teotihuacán. The daunting treks led to a book on Mesoamerican myth, Legends of the Plumed Serpent.
Those two disparate worlds somehow collided unexpectedly on a recent afternoon in the hushed, temperature-controlled precincts of the National Museum of the American Indian storage facility in Suitland, Maryland. There, staffers pushing a rolling cart ushered one of the museum’s greatest treasures into the high-ceilinged room. Nestled in an acid-free corrugated cardboard container was the earliest known example of telephone technology in the Western Hemisphere, evoking a lost civilization—and the anonymous ancient techie who dreamed it up.
The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional—and too fragile to test out. “This is unique,” NMAI curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me. “Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”
We’ll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering—cunningly constructed of two resin-coated gourd receivers, each three-and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut—arose out of the Chimu empire at its height. The dazzlingly innovative culture was centered in the Río Moche Valley in northern Peru, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes. “The Chimu were a skillful, inventive people,” Matos tells me as we don sterile gloves and peer into the hollowed interiors of the gourds. The Chimu, Matos explains, were the first true engineering society in the New World, known as much for their artisanry and metalwork as for the hydraulic canal-irrigation system they introduced, transforming desert into agricultural lands.
The artifact’s recent past is equally mysterious. Somehow—no one knows under what circumstances—it came into the hands of a Prussian aristocrat, Baron Walram V. Von Schoeler. A shadowy Indiana Jones-type adventurer, Von Schoeler began excavating in Peru during the 1930s. He developed the “digging bug,” as he told the New York Times in 1937, at the age of 6, when he stumbled across evidence of a prehistoric village on the grounds of his father’s castle in Germany. Von Schoeler himself may have unearthed the gourd telephone. By the 1940s, he had settled in New York City and amassed extensive holdings of South American ethnographic objects, eventually dispersing his collections to museums around the United States.
The sophisticated culture was eclipsed when the Inca emperor Tupac Yupanqui conquered the Chimu king Minchancaman around 1470. During its heyday, the urban center of Chan Chan was the largest adobe metropolis in pre-Columbian America. The central nucleus covered 2.3 square miles.
Today, the angular contours of ten immense compounds, once surrounded by thick, 30-foot-high walls, are visible. The compounds, or ciudadelas, erected successively by ten Chimu kings, were subdivided into labyrinths of corridors, kitchens, courtyard gardens, wells, burial sites, supply rooms and residential and administrative chambers, or audiencias.
Like the Inca, Matos says, the Chimu were organized as “a top-down society; this instrument would have been made only for, and used by, a member of the elite, perhaps a priest.”
Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com
We Had No Idea What Alexander Graham Bell Sounded Like. Until Now.
3,700 Years Old: Largest, Oldest Wine Cellar Found In Near East
World’s oldest creature was 507...but scientists killed it
Listen to a Performance from the Western World’s Oldest Surviving Song
Oldest Map Of The New World Found On A 500 Year Old Ostrich Egg
Oldest known complete Torah scroll found in university library by chance
Britain’s oldest light bulb still shining after 130 years
Oldest ever Christmas sound recordings from 1902
Latest News from our Front Page
The Pilgrims Were Definitely Not Like Modern-Day Refugees
This upcoming Thanksgiving Day is sure to offer you and your family plenty of opportunities to argue over whether America should be welcoming Syrian refugees.
If you have any liberal relatives or friends coming over for your Thursday feast, theyâ€™re going to relish the chance to tell everyone that the Pilgrims were refugees too â€” and hope that statement decimates all ...
ISIS to France: "We will be coming. Victory has been promised to us by Allah"
Homegrown French ISIS fighters have issued a chilling threat of new attacks on France just 24 hours after the terrorist group used movie footage of the Eiffel Tower's collapse in another video.
A balaclava-clad militant is seen warning 'we will be coming, we will come to crush your country' in footage posted on Twitter earlier today.
It is unclear where the film ...
ISIS teenage 'poster girl' Samra Kesinovic 'beaten to death' as she tried to flee the group
She appeared in social media images for the group carrying a Kalashnikov and surrounded by armed men
A teenage girl who ran away from her Vienna home to join Isis in Syria has reportedly been beaten to death by the group after trying to escape.
Samra Kesinovic, 17, travelled to Syria last year with her friend Sabina Selimovic, 15.
The two became a ...
The Right Stuff's flagship podcast "The Daily Shoah" has been censored by Soundcloud
Editor's note: The PC corporate moral police strike again. Just as Radio 3Fourteen & Red Ice Radio were censored from iTunes, The Daily Shoah was pulled from Soundcloud today. As per usual, there is a double standard, they allow any kind of anti-White material:
No counter culture humor making fun of the genocidal mainstream garbage is allowed!
Soundcloud took it upon ...
Merkel Welcomes A Million More: Vows To Stand By Refugee Policy Despite Security Fears
Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday to stick to her open-door refugee policy, defying criticism at home and abroad which has intensified due to growing fears about a potential security risk after the Islamist attacks in Paris.
Conservative Merkel faces splits in her right-left coalition and pressure from EU states, including France, over her insistence that Germany can cope with up ...
|More News » |