The ancient Aztecs have long been associated with all things death-related; from human sacrifices, to using the spinal cords of losing athletes in their local sports to keep score in the next match, let’s just say the Aztecs knew a thing or two about death and incorporated it liberally throughout their culture.
But that didn’t stop archeologists from being curious when the first dug up skull-shaped trinkets from Aztec temples in Mexico decades ago. At first, researchers assumed they were either used for decorative purposes or perhaps simply just toys for young ones to get accustomed to the warrior lifestyle.
However, years later upon further inspection researchers discovered the skull-shaped artifact was actually a musical instrument. A whistle to be precise. A death whistle to be even more precise. Instead of making a delightful toot or tweet when blowed upon, the death whistle produced a blood-curdling scream.
The scream was so ear-piercingly horrific, the first startled researcher to blow into it almost dropped it out of fear.
So, what did the Aztecs use death whistles for? Well, one of the first and most popular theories is that they were used during battles much the same way the Scottish used bagpipes – to intimidate their enemies. Except imagine the bagpipes were shaped like skulls and made screaming sounds instead of whatever that sound is that comes out of bagpipes.
However, further research has produced even more theories as to their usage. After discovering more death whistles in a temple dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl, some cultural historians surmised the death whistles might have been made to honor the wind god. Whistles are wind instruments after all.
Still, considering they sound nothing like normal whistles and the fact that they’ve also been discovered clutched tightly in the preserved hands of human sacrifice victims, many experts believe they were mostly used in human sacrifice ceremonies. Most likely, each whistle was believed to contain the screams, and perhaps the spirit, of the human sacrifices – making them an even more valuable offering to the gods.
Nonetheless, the truth is nobody knows for sure one way or the other what their purpose was. All we know is that the sounds they make is the stuff of nightmares, and lots of people like buying replicas of them to scare friends and family.
Listen for yourself:
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