Hear the Aztec ‘Death Whistle’ That Mystified Scientists

In the 1990s, archeologists in Mexico City unearthed a 500-year-old skeleton near an ancient Aztec temple—a victim of human sacrifice. A grisly discovery, yes, but perhaps even more chilling was what the beheaded skeleton was holding: two small whistles, one in the shape of a skull. When a researcher blew into one of the tiny instruments, the horrifying sounds that emerged immediately captivated imaginations. One scholar described the noise as “a shriek of death.”

The dreadful, high-pitched sound of the whistle is perhaps most comparable to a human scream. “There are different air streams generated within the structure of these instruments, which then diametrically hits against each other,” said Arnd Adje Both, a music archeologist who has examined the whistle. “And thus the Aztecs were able to produce a very shrill and noisy sound.”

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