Ancient Peruvian Whistling Jars


The Whistling Jars are a unique and fascinating type of ancient Peruvian ceramic musical instrument that has captured the attention of musicians and music enthusiasts around the world. Also known as “Whistling Vessels”, “Huaco” or “Huaco Silbador,” these musical instruments produce a hauntingly beautiful sound that is created by allowing air to flow into the vessel or by pouring a liquid from one chamber into the other.

Ancient Peruvian Whistling Vessel – Met Museum

Huaco or Guaco is a term used in Peru to refer to finely crafted earthen vessels and pottery artworks created by indigenous peoples of the Americas, which have been discovered in various pre-Columbian sites including ancient ruins, sanctuaries, burial locations, and temples.

While there are numerous surviving pottery instruments from pre-Conquest South and Central America, very little is known about their original use before the Spanish invasion that devastated native cultures. However, it is believed that whistles, trumpets, and rattles in the form of animals or humans likely had ceremonial functions or were used as playthings.

Huaco Silbador

Pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Nazca or the Moche were major creators of these Huaco Silbadores and passed down their unique ceramic skills throughout history. Even the Incas, who absorbed all the cultures during their expansion, also produced huacos.

These artifacts are considered to be among the most intriguing and unique examples of pre-Columbian pottery. Many of these vessels have been dated from 500 BC – 1200 AD to around the time of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica in 1532.

Chimu-Inca Whistling Bottle
Chimu-Inca Whistling Bottle – Penn Museum

They are not mere earthenware but are considered noteworthy pottery specimens that were utilized for ceremonial, religious, artistic, or aesthetic purposes in the pre-Columbian civilizations of the central Andean region. But perhaps also as containers for food and drink.

The jars were often found in tombs and burial sites, indicating their importance in Inca funerary rituals. It is believed that the whistling sound was thought to represent the voices of the ancestors and that the jars were used to communicate with the spirit world.

Physical Attributes

The Inca Whistling Jars are a 1- or 2-chambered vessels made from high-quality clay, which is moulded into various shapes and sizes, and then decorated with intricate designs and motifs. The jars feature a narrow mouth and a wider base, with a long, hollow spout extending from the rim.

Whistling vessels underwent various stylistic changes, with their physical appearance being partially differentiated by whether they were the fluid type or blown type.

There is evidence indicating that whistling vessels were created as far north as Mexico during the Mayan era. The initial whistling vessels were characterized by a single container with two conical spouts joined by a flattened bridge.  These vessels were typically decorated with incised geometrical lines and had a smudged grey or black appearance due to the smoky firing atmosphere.

Chimu single chamber whistling vessel (11th-15th century) Peru
Chimu single chamber whistling vessel (11th-15th century) Peru

Double vessels were joined by hollow tubes which displaced air and created sounds and whistles when air or water passed through. These vessels were decorated with brilliant polychromatic slip paintings with representations of significant religious deities, animals, architectural forms, and scenes from daily life.

Internal diagram of whistling vessel
Drawing of Vicus double-chambered whistling water vessel.l –The enigma of the whistling water jars

The sound is created by blowing into the spout or by pouring liquid from one jar into another, which causes the air to move through the narrow passage between the spout and the body of the jar, producing a distinctive whistling sound.

Research has shown that many of the vessels that have been unearthed can produce unique notes. When played together, these notes create binaural frequencies that can help increase relaxation, change the production of hormones in the body, and reduce anxiety and stress.

This is because the auditory illusion of the two tones creates a third tone, which adds to the overall experience. Binaural frequencies have also been found to assist with pain management, improve sleep quality, and reduce stress levels. They can even aid in meditation and the induction of trance states.

The whistling water jars are a fascinating example of the technological sophistication that existed within the intricate conceptual framework of pre-Columbian ceramics, encompassing the development of both musical and ceramic art forms in the New World.

Modern-day Peruvian water whistles made of clay – Old Peru Replicas

These jars were produced for centuries dating back to the early formative periods of South America, with examples of whistling jars found in various cultures as far north as Mexico and as far south as southern Peru. However, after the Spanish conquest, the production of whistling jars ceased, and their precise function within the societies that created them remains a mystery.

The exact methods of producing the Inca Whistling Jars are still a mystery, as the Inca did not leave any written records of their pottery-making techniques. However, it is believed that the jars were made using a complex firing process that involved heating the clay at high temperatures and that the spouts were added separately using a coil-and-scrape technique.

Huaco_silbador_chimu Museo de la nación
Huaco silbador:Chimu Museo de la nación

As time went by, whistling jars became increasingly elaborate in both form and decoration, but their size consistently ranged from eight to twenty-two centimetres. Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations were commonly used in the design elements, reflecting the animistic beliefs that continue to prevail among indigenous peoples in South America today.

The Inca Whistling Jars have fascinated archaeologists and collectors for centuries, and they continue to be highly sought-after today. In addition to their historical and cultural significance, these jars are valued for their exquisite craftsmanship and artistic beauty. Many of the surviving examples feature intricate geometric patterns and animal motifs, which demonstrate the high level of skill and creativity of the Inca artisans who made them.

If You Enjoyed This Content, Feel Free To Leave A Tip Or Visit One Of The Sponsor Adverts