Chancay Double-Chambered Whistling Vessel
Chancay Double-Chambered Whistling Vessel

June 4, 2015: Chancay Double-Chambered Whistling Vessel

Middle Horizon to Late Intermediate 1100-1476 CE
20 x 7 x 23 cm

Double-chambered whistling vessels are an important part of the ceramic art of pre-Columbian Peru. This technology, which uses the flow of water between two chambers to push air through a whistle hole, likely developed with the Vicús culture (200 BCE – 600 CE) and spread cross-culturally around 0 – 1500 CE. Prior to that, single chambered whistling vessels were made in Ecuador as early as 1200-900 BCE, and among the Chavin of northern Peru around 800 BCE, whom appear to have had cultural and material exchange with the Maya.

The Chancay, c.a. 1000 to 1470, occupied areas of the central coast of Peru prior to expansions by the Chimú and, later, the Inca, whose expansion in the fifteenth century led to decline of both the Chancay and the Chimú. The Chancay economy included fishing from shore and reed watercrafts, agriculture utilizing water reservoirs and irrigation channels, and expansive trade networks. The Chancay are known for their rich textile tradition, of which many pieces have survived archaeologically, as well as their ceramics, which are characteristically white and black with a matted texture, as seen here. Ceramics were usually made from complex molds with additional hand sculpting for detail.

Birds are a common theme in Chancay art, and in this piece, we see a bird perched atop one of the chambers of the whistling vessel. Small holes on the bird’s back serve as the whistle for escaping air. You can see a demonstration of a similar type vessel made by a modern potter at the following link: Do note, however, that in this video, a single spout on the bridge serves as entry for water that flows into two whistling chambers. Different sounds could be made using different designs, and each sound had different symbolic or aesthetic uses, such as giving a voice to a spirit, imitating an animal call, or making a lighthearted gurgling sound.

Music played an important role in the worldview of prehistoric Peru, as elsewhere in pre-Columbian South America and Mesoamerica. The voices of instruments were thought to contain spirits or spiritual power, as depicted through murals and through Spanish accounts of Incan soldiers bringing instruments to battle in order to call upon the spirits within. Sound was a way in which people could connect with each other, the natural world, and the world of the unknown.

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