study of chirped echo from
the Mayan pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza
by David Lubman
This is a concise summary of a paper to be given at the October 12-16, 1998
meeting of the
Acoustical Society of America in Norfolk, VA.
|Handclaps evoke chirped echoes
from the staircases of the Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza. The physics of the chirped
echo can be explained quite simply as periodic reflections from
step faces. But until now,
no one has bothered to do so.
What is very
interesting is that the chirped echo sounds arguably like the primary call of the Mayan
sacred bird, the resplendent Quetzal. This magnificent bird, now near extinction, has for
thousands of years represented the "spirit of the Maya". Spirits, in many
traditions, speak in echoes. Think of the legend of Echo and Narcissus in the western
tradition. Echo, lacking a body, was pure spirit.
Figure 1. The pyramid at Chichen Itza
A Mayan glyph from the Dresden Codex makes
the connection between the pyramid of Kukulkan and the Quetzal bird. This glyph shows
Kukulkan, the "sovereign plumed serpent" with a gigantic Quetzal behind him. We
argue that the Quetzal bird represents the spirit of the Maya. We also argue that spirits
often speak in echoes. It seems most appropriate that the spirit echo of the Pyramid of
Kukulkan would speak in the echo-voice of the Quetzal."
Even today, the Quetzal plays an important
part in modern Mayan culture. (Many modern Maya live in Guatemala, and in the Mexican
States of Chiapas and Quintan Roo). Examples: the Quetzal is the unit of currency in
Guatemala. The Guatemalan government issues a prestigious award named "The Order of
the Quetzal." The most recent recipient of this award is the great Mayanist,
Dr. Linda Schele. (Dr. Schele passed-on in April, 1998.)
Could the Maya have intentionally coded the
sound of their sacred bird into the pyramid architecture? I think it is possible. In the
millennium since this pyramid was built, though the plaster has eroded from the limestone
staircases, the sound is still recognizable.
The Quetzal Bird
Quetzal in the cloud forest.
|You will hear two
Quetzal bird chirps (recorded in a rain forest) followed
by two chirped echoes stimulated by a handclaps at the pyramid (recorded by me in January
1998). We must not expect the sounds to be identical. Just recognizably similar.
Think of a scratchy old Caruso recording. We can still recognize the voice of the great
Caruso, even if it does not sound perfect. Remember that the Mayan stone recording is many
times older than the Caruso recording!
else in the history of the world have an ancient people preserved a sacred sound by coding
it into stone so that a thousand years later people might hear and wonder?
Note about the quetzal chirps: The
ancestors of the builders of Chichen Itza lived in the cloud forests" In the cloud
forest, sound can be more important than vision, because one can hear father than one can
see. The acoustic channel in cloud forests is rich with the sounds of birds, insects
and animals. The "Quetzal in the cloud forest" sound file will help to
familiarize you with the sound of a free quetzal in a cloud forest as the ancient Maya may
have heard it. Take the time to download this 821Kb file (about 30 seconds at
28.8 Kb/sec). Listen to it. Turn up the volume. Then listen again to the pyramid echo. It
will help you to appreciate why the classical Maya may have heard in the pyramid echo the
sound of the quetzal."
Dr. Steven J. Waller has proposed that
prehistoric rock art, which is usually found in echoing locations such as caves and
canyons, was produced in response to the echoes, since legends from many ancient cultures
describe the belief that echoes were spirit voices. See Waller's rock art web page for more information.
Send your comments to David Lubman / Acoustical Consultant
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