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Volume 26
Number 1
Spring 2009
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Bone flutes, San Lazaro Pueblo, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Private collection. (Emily Brown) Social / Cultural Sciences
Musical instruments in the pre-Hispanic Southwest

By Emily Brown
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Basketmaker II (AD 200–500) and III (AD 500–700)
Pueblo I (AD 700–900)
Pueblo II (AD 900–1150)
Pueblo III (AD 1150–1300)
Pueblo IV (AD 1300–1540)
Spanish contact (AD 1540–1680)
Future research
About the author
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STUDYING THE MUSIC OF PAST ERAS is challenging, even when written manuscripts are available. In archaeological contexts without written records, it becomes yet more difficult. However, a surprising amount can be learned by studying musical instruments from archaeological sites. Researchers studying the social and physical contexts in which music took place (Brown 2005) and the instruments themselves (Olsen 1990) have identified some roles music may have played in prehistoric societies. Music lends itself well to ritual; strategic use of ritual is one way Ancestral Puebloan leaders in the American Southwest established, validated, and maintained their social authority.

Photo showing a decorated gourd rattle, which is 5.3 inches (13.5 cm) in diameter, from Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona).

Courtesy of Emily Brown

Figure 1. One of more than 1,250 musical objects studied, this decorated gourd rattle from Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona) is 5.3 inches (13.5 cm) in diameter. Collection of the Western Archeology and Conservation Center, Tucson, Arizona, Catalog No. CACH 811.

In the course of my research in nine museums, I studied more than 1,250 musical objects from the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, primarily from sites within 17 national parks, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, Pecos National Historical Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, and Wupatki National Monument. The different instrument types included bone and wood flutes; bone, wood, and reed whistles; copper and clay bells; shell trumpets; shell, stone, hoof, and nut tinklers; gourd, tortoiseshell, hide, clay, and cocoon rattles (fig. 1, above); bone and wood rasps; stone kiva bells; and wooden bullroarers. Curiously, I found no evidence of prehistoric drums other than the controversial foot drums—stone vaults dug into the floors of subterranean ceremonial chambers known as kivas and covered with planks. Drums may be a relatively recent addition to Puebloan culture, perhaps during the late 1400s or early 1500s. They may have been introduced through trade with nomadic Plains groups or native Mexicans traveling with Spanish groups. Though some rock art images suggest flutes were present in the Archaic period, the earliest instruments I found in museum collections were from the Basketmaker II period (AD 200–500). Of course, music made by the human body leaves no trace in the archaeological record.

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This page updated:  9 July 2009

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From the Guest Editor(s)
In This Issue
Information Crossfile
Book Reviews
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The Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program: A legacy of science for national parks
Science for parks / parks for science: Conservation-based research in national parks
The rock and ice problem in national parks: An opportunity for monitoring climate change impacts
1,000 feet above a coral reef: A seascape approach to designing marine protected areas
Management strategies for keystone bird species: The Magellanic woodpecker in Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina
Climate change and water supply in western national parks
Mercury in snow at Acadia National Park reveals watershed dynamics
Organic pollutant distribution in Canadian mountain parks
Building an NPS training program in interpretation through distance learning
  Musical instruments in the pre-Hispanic Southwest
Societal dynamics in grizzly bear conservation: Vulnerabilities of the ecosystem-based management approach
Linking wildlife populations with ecosystem change: State-of-the-art satellite ecology for national-park science
Whale sound recording technology as a tool for assessing the effects of boat noise in a Brazilian marine park
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