An ancient telephone device, recovered from the ruins of Chan Chan, the capital of the Kingdom of Chimor in the Rio Moche Valley of the north coast of Peru, is at least 1,200 years old, according to archaeologists.
Experts say it is the earliest known example of telephone technology in human history. It gives evidence of the level of sophistication of the pre-Columbian technological society that existed 1,000 years before Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish-born engineer who invented the modern telephone in 1833.
The telephone artifact was discovered in Chan Chan, the metropolitan center of the Kingdom of Chimor, about 4 km northwest of present-day Trujillo city in the Rio Moche valley region, between the Pacific Ocean and the western slopes of the Andes.
It is a communication device carefully designed for acoustic efficiency consisting of two gourds linked by a length of cotton twine.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the device was discovered originally by an aristocratic Prussian adventurer, Baron Walram V. Von Schoeler, who excavated the ruins of Chan Chan in the 1930s.
Historians consider the Chimu — as the people the Kingdom of Chimor were called — the first advanced engineering culture in the Americas. The Chimu are admired as skilled artisans who created intricate monochromatic pottery and did metalwork with copper, gold, silver, and bronze.
They built a hydraulic canal-irrigation system, which they used to transform their narrow strip of desert between the Andes and the Pacific into productive agricultural land.
Although, by the standards of modern technology, the telephone artifact from the ruins of Chan Chan was crude and rudimentary, it was a startling innovation coming from an ancient culture. Similar devices did not become well-known in Europe until the 19th century, and even Bell experimented with such devices before he could invent the modern telephone.
According to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) curator Ramiro Matos, the device “is unique” and it is the “only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”
While the intimate details of the creative process that went into the invention are lost forever to history, the material evidence speaks for itself. The seemingly out-of-place artifact (known as an oopart) was engineered delicately for acoustic efficiency.
It consists of two resin-coated gourds, about three-and-half inches long. The open ends of the gourds have membranes stretched taut across them, and the receivers are linked by cotton twines about 75 feet.
The length of the twine indicates that it was used successfully as a portable intercom device by people in different parts of the same building.
Despite the fact that the device was too fragile — due to age — for researchers to test physically, they could make informed guesses about how it worked and for what purposes it was used.
Scholars speculated that due to the fact that the Chimu society was very highly stratified, it was likely used only by members of the elite classes. According to Matos, the device was a “tool designed for an executive level of communication.”
It is assumed that senior ranking officials used it to communicate with subordinate officials.
The Chimu empire first rose to prominence in the Andes region about 900 A.D., but was eventually conquered by the Inca in the late fifteenth century before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
According to archeologists, at the height of its power in the early thirteenth century, Chan Chan, the metropolitan center of the Kingdom, with an estimated population of 100,000, covered about 20 square kilometers.
Buildings were constructed from mud brick and decorated elaborately with reliefs and sculptures. The king’s palace was a sprawling complex, consisting of residential and administrative chambers — and domestic facilities such as kitchens and large store rooms.
The strict separation of social classes meant that residential compounds and areas of the elite classes were separated physically from the residential areas of the lower classes by thick high walls.
An example of such walls discovered by archeologists was 30 feet high.
The Chimu empire was succeeded by the Inca empire. The Inca ruler, Tupac Yupanqui, conquered the Chimu king Minchancaman in the late fifteenth century.
While some oopart conspiracy theorists have seized on the opportunity to proclaim the device as evidence of extraterrestrial civilization influence, in reality, it is evidence of innovative skills that challenges the notion that preliterate cultures were essentially culturally static and creatively sterile.
[Images: Wikimedia via UFO Sightings Daily]