woman in pink sweater holding her hands to her ears
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 6, 2024 ·  5 min read

Scientists recreate the ‘most terrifying sound in the world’ using 3D printing

In the depths of Aztec history, amidst the rituals of human sacrifice and the worship of gods, a chilling sound emerged—the Aztec death whistle. Often described as the most terrifying sound in the world, these eerie instruments have intrigued historians, musicians, and anthropologists for years. Now, modern science, with the help of 3D printing, is unlocking the secrets behind these enigmatic artifacts. In this article, we delve into the mysterious world of Aztec death whistles, exploring their origins, uses, and efforts to recreate their spine-tingling sounds.

Unveiling the Aztec Death Whistle

The Aztec death whistle, characterized by its skull-like appearance, emits a haunting, screeching sound that sends shivers down one’s spine.1 This bone-chilling noise, resembling the cries of the undead, has led to speculations about its purpose and use in Aztec society. While its precise role remains a subject of debate, some theories suggest that it may have been used as an intimidation tactic in warfare or to evoke the howling wind.

In 1999, archaeologists made a remarkable discovery—a 20-year-old sacrificial victim found clutching a death whistle in a temple dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl at Tlatelolco. This finding raised questions about the instrument’s connection to Aztec rituals and beliefs. To understand its secrets, researchers have turned to various fields, including mechanical engineering and 3D printing.

The Role of Mechanical Engineering

Roberto Velásquez, a mechanical engineer, has played a pivotal role in unraveling the mysteries of the Aztec death whistle. His simulations of air rushing through these instruments have provided valuable insights into their functionality. By examining the internal structure and acoustics of the whistles through CT scans, Velásquez has shed light on how they create their eerie sounds.2

These death whistles, it turns out, are a type of “air spring” whistle, a unique wind instrument found only in pre-Columbian America. When air passes through the intake tube, it interacts with a spring of air within a rounded chamber, creating distortions in the sound. By covering an additional opening on the bottom with a hand, the tone of the sound can be shaped. This revelation challenges traditional Western classifications of musical instruments, making the Aztec death whistle even more intriguing.

3D Printing and the Terrifying Resurrection of the Aztec Death Whistle

One scientist who ventured into the realm of recreating this spine-tingling sound is James J. Orgill, presenter of the YouTube channel The Action Lab.3 Orgill sought to delve deeper into the mysteries of the Aztec Death Whistle by experimenting with modern versions of these instruments, crafted using 3D printing technology, courtesy of HeyGears.

The result of Orgill’s efforts was a startling noise, one that innately strikes fear into the heart. What makes this eerie sound even more intriguing is that it doesn’t come across as a human scream, yet it manages to evoke a deep sense of dread. The effect of the whistle is particularly pronounced when one doesn’t witness the person blowing into it, as if the brain intuitively knows that it’s just a whistle, intensifying the sense of horror.

Commenters on Orgill’s video described their reactions to this spine-tingling experience. Some recounted the shock of unexpected screams emanating from their devices, while others pondered the strange internal feelings it stirred within them. The sheer power of this recreated sound, capable of evoking fear and curiosity, underscores the mystique of the Aztec Death Whistle.

Intriguingly, while scientists in various fields are occupied with tackling monumental global issues, there remains room for exploration and experimentation in the realm of ancient mysteries and their chilling auditory legacies. The decision to resurrect the Aztec Death Whistle through 3D printing is a testament to the enduring fascination with the eerie depths of human history, where even the most unsettling sounds have stories to tell.

How The Aztec Death Whistle Fits into Aztec Beliefs

The connection between the Aztec death whistle and the underworld god Mictlantecuhtli is a significant aspect of their story. In Aztec mythology, there is a strong link between the wind god Ehecatl and Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death. The Codex Borgia, an ancient manuscript, depicts these two gods guarding the entrance to the underworld, symbolizing the duality of life and death. Rituals involving the death whistle may have been performed to guide the spirits of the deceased on their perilous journey to the underworld.

Intriguingly, a description of an Aztec festival called Toxcatl, dedicated to the god of the night sky, Tezcatlipoca, hints at the use of the death whistle. The festival involved a youth, representing Tezcatlipoca, who carried the whistle symbolizing the “weird wind of night“. This suggests that death whistles may have been used in ceremonies related to death and sacrifice, further emphasizing their connection to the underworld.

While some theories suggest that Aztec warriors used death whistles to terrify their enemies in battle, concrete evidence is scarce. The instruments recovered from archaeological sites are smaller than the modern replicas played by musicians like Xavier Yxayotl. The smaller ancient whistles do not produce the same bone-chilling screams as their larger counterparts. Therefore, the use of death whistles in battle remains speculative, with their primary purpose likely rooted in rituals and ceremonies.

A New Tradition Inspired by the Ancients

The Aztec death whistle, shrouded in mystery, has sparked a modern revival of interest and creativity. Musicians, artists, dancers, and Mexican nationalists have incorporated the death whistle into their own narratives and performances. This resurgence represents a new layer added to an ancient tradition, blending the past with the present.

In conclusion, the Aztec death whistle continues to captivate and intrigue, both for its spine-tingling sound and its enigmatic history. Thanks to the efforts of mechanical engineers and the power of 3D printing, we are getting closer to understanding the secrets of these unique instruments. While their precise role in Aztec society remains a mystery, the legacy of the death whistle lives on, inspiring new generations to explore the eerie depths of ancient Mesoamerican culture.

Sources

  1. The Aztec Death Whistle Makes One of the Scariest Sounds You’ll Ever Hear.” Discovery. Reuben Westmaas. August 1, 2019.
  2. How Did Ancient Aztecs Use the Haunting Aztec Death Whistle?How Stuff Works. Dave Roos. July 18, 2022.
  3. https://www.unilad.com/technology/news/most-terrifying-sound-world-3d-printing-100998-20230927