Pututus, conch shell musical horns, are known in the Andes as annunciatory devices enabling their players to call across long distances. Beyond their iconic call, the sonic and gestural versatility possible in pututu performance constitutes dynamical evidence for prehistorical uses and site-specific cultural valuations of these multifaceted ritual instruments. Pututus appear in drawings created during the Spanish conquest and colonization of the Andes, and intact shell horns have been excavated from monumental architecture in Perú preceding the Inca by more than two millennia. At the late Andean Formative center at Chavín de Huántar, Perú, a well-preserved ceremonial complex active during the first millennium BCE, pututus were depicted in stone and on decorated ceramics, and twenty-one intact shell horns have been excavated. The use-worn, identity-projecting, and symbolically notched Chavín pututus provide physical and acoustical evidence for instruments prominently depicted in site graphics. Here, I take a cross-disciplinary approach to examine the Chavín pututus with respect to site archaeology and its particular Andean highland setting, especially considering their dynamical potential.

Chavín's built environment and material record evince past strategies for environmental negotiations that foreshadow present-day discourse regarding the Anthropocene. Intrinsic to site ritual, the Chavín pututus were pivotal instruments in the expression of human-ecological (re)positionings. Archaeological engagement of both sound-related matters and environmental framing is at stake in my exploration of human-environmental interdynamics and their conceptualization, as evinced in the material culture of monumental Chavín and its setting. Chavín’s site-excavated Strombus pututus were tools for ritual communication that link diverse ecologies with human interventions towards environmental control. The human-environmental positionality of Chavín’s monumental architecture relates to the ecological materiality of pututus in their anthropic transposition from marine animal to (super)human vocal transformer and proxy: a technology of air transformation and wind interaction as well as sound production. Environmental interventions via Chavín architecture and these multimodal instruments manifest strategic realizations of human dominance while communicating negotiation within a flow-directing ritualscape. The Chavín pututus harbor cosmological significance whose details are mired in the uncertainty of archaeology, yet whose materiality conveys reference and function: they are instruments of human-environmental relations; ritual technologies for humans asserting agency in ordering their cosmos.

Author Biography

Miriam A. Kolar’s cultural acoustics research employs acoustical and auditory science in a transdisciplinary approach to anthropological archaeology and the study of human-environmental interrelationships. Since 2008, she has led integrative archaeoacoustics and music archaeology research at the UNESCO World Heritage site at Chavín de Huántar, Perú, where her methodological innovations include on-site auditory localization experiments to evaluate experiential implications of interior architectural acoustics. In 2015, Kolar conducted experimental music archaeology fieldwork at the Inca administrative center, Huánuco Pampa, and continues research on Inca sonics. An organizing collaborator to the 2019-2021 NEH-granted cultural heritage project, Digital Preservation and Access to Aural Heritage Via A Scalable, Extensible Method, Kolar was recently a Weatherhead Fellow at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), and previously served as the Mellon Five College Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities.

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