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In Focus: An Archeomusicologist’s Study of Ancestral Puebloans Music

Archaeologists have already researched many angles in the world of the Anasazi, about the nature and evolution of the people known as Ancestral Puebloans. One former National Parks Service (NP) archaeologist named Emily Brown applied her knowledge in music to take on the topic by studying the various instruments of the ancient Anasazi.

 

Ms. Brown aspired to conduct research that will be of use to the public by providing a greater knowledge on how music carried political and social power through rituals. Her study supports a new angle about the music of Ancestral Puebloans and the information they indicate on how the ancient Anasazi race evolved.

Her study reached as far back as A.D 200 to 1540, starting from the first era where she was able to discover musical instruments up to the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Southwest, where ithe Anasazi people used to live. Through her examination of the musical instruments, Ms. Brown theorized that the sonic power of the instruments were used for spectacular public rituals.

In the Pueblo period from A.D. 1150 to 1300, the time when an extended drought occurred in the region, Ms. Brown noted the absence of musical instruments as components of rituals. It indicated a rejection of Chacoan ideology, as it did not meet the needs of the people during the long great droughts.

Most of the instruments she studied are part of museum collections located in the Southwest and East Coast area, while some, are NPS collections. During her research, Ms. Brown found out that instruments obtained from earlier excavations are stored in two Peabody Museums, namely the American Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of Natural History.

Since Ms. Brown cannot play any of the artifact instruments held by the museums, she created replicas out of similar indigenous materials. That way, she was able to discover how each instrument under study produces musical sounds.

About Brown’s Collection of Discoveries

A graduate of a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, majoring in both anthropology and music, as well as a masteral and doctorate degrees also in archeology, she calls herself as an archeomusicologist. Through her collection of replica whistles and whistles and flutes built from reed, wood, and bones of turkeys, eagles, foxes, whistling swans, canada geese, and bobcats, as well as bells of clay and copper. The bells known as kiva bells are large hanging stones that ring when pounded together.

She also built replicas of rattlers as percussion instruments made of wooden frames and leather cases filled with dried seeds. Other instruments she studied are trumpets made from large shells, wooden bullroarers, and rasps. A rasp is an instrument made up of pieces of serrated wood that are rubbed against bones to create a sound.

According to her, even if drums are very common in the modern Pueblo culture, Brown found no physical proof the drums existed in the past. In the later part of the Ancestral Pueblo culture, foot drums were developed as an instrument used in communicating with deceased ancestors.

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