The Smithsonian has this article on a 1,200 year old example of early telephone technology, something we've all built as kids and now take for granted, but which for its time must have been marvellous.
The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functionaland 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.
Well never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineeringcunningly 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 tautarose out of the Chimu empire at its height. The dazzlingly innovative culture was centered in the Río Moche Valley in northern Peru, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes. The Chimu were a skillful, inventive people, Matos tells me as we don sterile gloves and peer into the hollowed interiors of the gourds. The Chimu, Matos explains, were the first true engineering society in the New World, known as much for their artisanry and metalwork as for the hydraulic canal-irrigation system they introduced, transforming desert into agricultural lands.
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