This ancient Peruvian telephone was unearthed in the 1930s by Baron Walram V. Von Schoeler, "a shadowy Indiana Jones-type adventurer."
The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional — and too fragile to test out. “This is unique,” NMAI curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me. “Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”
We'll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering — cunningly constructed of two resin -coated gourd receivers, each three-and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut—arose out of the Chimu empire at its height.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects