9 783944 415352
Oh ﬂowers we take,
oh songs we chant,
we enter the Reign of Mystery!
A least for one day we are together, my friends!
We ought to leave our ﬂowers,
We must leave our songs
and go while the earth lasts forever!
My friends, enjoy; let’s celebrate, friends!
Cantares Mexicanos fol. 35v., lin. 16-20
!Oh ﬂores que portamos,
oh cantos que llevamos,
nos vamos al Reino del Misterio!
¡Al menos por un día estemos juntos, amigos míos!
¡Debemos dejar nuestras ﬂores,
tenemos que dejar nuestros cantos
y con toda la tierra seguirá permanente!
¡Amigos míos, gocemos; gocémonos, amigos!
Cantares Mexicanos fol. 35v., lin. 16-20
Flower World - Mundo Florido, vol. 5 Matthias Stöckli & Mark Howell (eds.)
Flower World - Mundo Florido Flower World
Music Archaeology of the Americas Mundo Florido
Arqueomusicología de las Américas
Edited by / Editado por
Matthias Stöckli & Mark Howell
Music Archaeology of the Americas
Arqueomusicología de las Américas
General Editor / Editor general
Arnd Adje Both
Music Archaeology of the Americas Mundo Florido
Arqueomusicología de las Américas
Edited by / Editado por
Matthias Stöckli & Mark Howell
Dr. Arnd Adje Both, Berlin / Berlín
General Editor / Editor General: Arnd Adje Both
Layout and Typography / Diseño y tipografía: Ingo Stahl-Blood
Cover image, based on the mural of Santa Rita, Belize / Imágen de
la tapa, basadas en el mural of Santa Rita, Belice
Printed / Imprimido: MCP, Poland / Polonia
All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of
the Ekho Verlag.
Todos los derechos reservados. Queda prohibida la reproducción total o parcial de esta obra por cualquier medio o
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autorización por escrito del Ekho Verlag.
© 2017 Ekho Verlag
Matthias Stöckli & Mark Howell (eds.)
Flower World - Music Archaeology of the Americas, vol. 5 /
Mundo Florido - Arqueomusicología de las Américas, vol. 5
Berlin / Berlín: Ekho Verlag, 2017
128 pages with 105 ﬁgures and 4 tables / 128 páginas con 105 ﬁgu-
ras y 4 tablas
ISSN 2195-7665 / ISBN 978-3-944415-00-0 (series / serie)
ISBN 978-3-944415-35-2 (hardcover / tapa dura)
ISBN 978-3-944415-36-9 (PDF)
Flower World - Mundo Florido, vol. 5 7
Preface / Prefacio
Matthias Stöckli & Mark Howell
Indicadores de la prehistoria musical del norte de Chile:
Las ﬂautas de Pan del sitio arqueológico Azapa-6, valle de Azapa
Andro Schampke C.
An Early Colonial Testimony of Musical Change and
Continuity in the Guatemalan Highlands
Sounds and Sights: Sweeping the Way at Bonampak
Los artefactos sonoros de Xochicalco
Arnd Adje Both e Ivonne Giles
Ceramic Vessel Rattles from Tala and Teuchitlan, Jalisco, West Mexico
Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
The Native American Flute Tradition in the Southern Plains,
Focusing on the Kiowa and Comanche Tribes
Paula J. Conlon
The Contributors / Los autores
Contents / Contenido
Flower World - Music Archaeology of the Americas, vol. 5 85
Ceramic Vessel Rattles from Tala
and Teuchitlan, Jalisco, West Mexico
Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
The cursory treatment in the literature of ancient West Mexican music instruments and related
ﬁgurines means little is known of their manufacture, sound producing capabilities, usage and
social function. To enhance our understanding of these West Mexican instruments this paper
presents a study of six ceramic vessel rattles from a private collection in Tala, and one from the
collections at Los Guachimontones, Teuchitlan, Jalisco. The vessel rattles documented include
examples in gourd, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic shapes. Their broader cultural context is
discussed based on a quantitative survey of collections of c. 1600 West Mexican ceramic objects,
focusing in particular on the importance of the gourd as the archetypal vessel rattle.
El resultado de un tratamiento meramente somero de los instrumentos musicales y ﬁgurillas so-
noras en los estudios sobre las culturas antiguas del occidente de México es que nuestros cono-
cimientos de su manufactura, sus características acústicas, su uso y su función social han que-
dado bastante limitados. Para ampliar y profundizar nuestra comprensión de estos instrumen-
tos el estudio presenta seis sonajas de una colección particular de Tala, Jalisco, más una que
pertenece a las colecciones de Los Guachimontones, Teuchitlán, Jalisco. Las siete sonajas que
hasta la fecha no han sido documentadas, son en su mayoría del tipo calabaza; no obstante, hay
ejemplares zoomorfos y antropomorfos entre ellas también. Para resaltar su contexto cultural se
las relaciona con una base de datos sobre unos 1600 objetos cerámicos del occidente de México.
La discusión enfoca la calabaza como la sonaja arquetípica.
Music instruments, musicians, and dancing in
pre-Columbian West Mexican art and archaeol-
ogy are hardly a novelty as their presence has
been recognized for more than a century (Kunike
1912; Kirchhoff 1949). Museum collections of
West Mexican artifacts frequently include and
display music instruments, along with sculptures
of individuals (mostly small) or groups of play-
ers holding or playing them, often together with
dancers and singers (von Winning and Hammer
1972; von Winning 1974; Crossley-Holland 1980:
1; Gallagher 1983: 67; Kan et al. 1989: 26, 46, 57,
71, 85; Butterwick 2004: 43-44). This evidence
clearly demonstrates that ancient inhabitants of
West Mexico (Fig.1) had a diverse and deep-root-
ed music tradition, which can be traced to the
Early Formative Period (1500-900 BC). Yet, given
the limited scholarly attention to this part of Me-
soamerica, few studies on West Mexican organ-
ology exist. The present paper contributes to this
ﬁeld in two ways. First, we document seven pre-
viously unpublished vessel rattles salvaged near
the modern towns of Tala and Teuchitlan, Jalis-
co. Then we apply a quantitative approach to the
discussion of West Mexican music instruments
where emphasis is placed on the strong associa-
tion of the vessel rattle with the gourd, based on
a dataset of approximately 1600 ceramic objects.
West Mexican music instruments primarily sur-
face in the literature as supporting data for oth-
er studies, those often dealing with ritual (e.g.
Furst 1966; von Winning and Hammer 1972;
Townsend 1998). However, a few exceptions
86 Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
exist (e.g. Kunike 1912; Crossley-Holland 1980;
Schöndube 1986). For instance, Kunike’s brief
article may be the earliest known attempt to de-
scribe West Mexican music instruments and mu-
sic culture. Another is the seminal iconographic
study by Hasso von Winning (1974) in which the
author identiﬁes broader stylistic and thematic
patterns for West Mexican ﬁgurines based on ap-
proximately 1200 objects from collections in Cali-
fornia. Unfortunately, these collections remained
unnamed, and although a large sample set is pro-
vided, the data was not presented in its entirety.
More recently, interdisciplinary studies involv-
ing trained ethno- or archaeo-musicologists signal
increasing interest in pre-Columbian West Mexi-
can music culture (Rawcliffe 1992, 2002, 2007).
Studies aimed speciﬁcally at vessel rattles are
even scarcer, only two works discuss them in
some detail. The ﬁrst is Peter Crossley-Holland’s
Musical Artifacts of Pre-Hispanic West Mexico
(1980), and the second is Dorothy Hosler’s The
Sounds and Colors of Power (1994). The ﬁrst calls
for an interdisciplinary approach to the study of
West Mexican music cultures while the latter fo-
cuses primarily on metallurgy and metal bells, but
includes rattles in its concluding observations.
The seven vessel rattles documented in this pa-
per consist of three botanomorphic types, one
anthropomorphic, one zoomorphic, one ﬂat-top
short cylinder, and one pair of mammiform rat-
tles on a ring. The ﬁrst six of these seven ceram-
ic vessels are currently in a private collection in
Tala, Jalisco, and were reportedly salvaged from
looted shaft tombs on the outskirts of the town.
The seventh (the one with rattles on a ring) is
said to be from the archaeological site of Los
Guachimontones in Teuchitlan, Jalisco. It was
not professionally excavated but instead found
on the surface and turned in by a local resident.
Based on the time period of the West Mexican
shaft tomb tradition (see Fig. 1), these seven ves-
Fig. 1 Map of West Mexico with shaft tomb tradition shaded and the location of Tala and
Teuchitlan marked. Map modiﬁed from Jorgensen and Cheong (2014: Fig. 2).
SAN LUÍS POTOSÍ
Río San Blas
0 100 200 300
Ceramic Vessel Rattles 87
sel rattles can tentatively be dated to 300 BC-AD
500 (Beekman 1996: 859, 2006: 245-247; Beekman
and Weigand 2008; Christopher Beekman, pers.
All seven rattles are of ﬁred clay, of which
six were said to be salvaged from a burial con-
text. This is quite probable as ceramic instru-
ments in the Mesoamerican region have indeed
been recovered from burial contexts (e.g. the
Maya sites of Caracol, Dzibilchaltun, Jaina, Ka-
minaljuyu, Pacbitun, Pook’s Hill, Rempujo, San
Jose, and Zaculeu) (Thompson 1939; Kidder 1945;
Woodbury and Trik 1953; Folan 1969; Miller 1975;
Chase and Chase 1987: 41; Healy 1988; Healy et
al. 2008; Guerrero 2011; Cheong 2011, 2012, 2013;
Cheong et al. 2014a, 2014b).
In Mesoamerica, music instruments recov-
ered from burial contexts have in part led to a
debate over whether these instruments were re-
ally meant to be played. Peter Crossley-Holland
(1980: 6) and Otto Schöndube (1986: 93ff), have
argued that clay instruments were replicas pre-
ferred for their positive conservation properties
and increased survivability in the challenging cli-
matic and geological conditions of Mesoamer-
ica. However, ceramic instruments recovered
from burial contexts tend to be fully functional
with signiﬁcant time invested in them by skilled
craftsmen, suggesting that they were meant to
be played, including the seven vessel rattles pre-
sented here. We cannot know if they were played
in the context of funerals, or perhaps they were
playable because it was conceived that the dead
would need to play them.
The second question is the relationship be-
tween ceramic rattles and the widespread gourd
rattles on which they are presumably based.
Crossley-Holland (1980: 6-7) treats the West Mex-
ican instruments he studied as skeuomorphs or
copies of real instruments. He observes that when
gourd rattles were replaced by clay, prior forms
are often maintained. For example, three ceram-
ic vessel rattles presented in this paper imitate
the physical appearance of a gourd rattle with the
resonating chamber resembling the gourd body,
whereas the handle and the protruding tip either
represented the top and stem or perhaps a stick
driven through the gourd, known ethnographi-
cally throughout the Americas (Fig. 2) (Voegelin
1942; Olsen 1996). This protruding tip serves no
organological function on ceramic vessel rattles,
but was retained to mirror the gourd rattle arche-
type. Similar protruding tip gourd rattles can be
seen, for instance, on Maya vases, particularly
K2781, K3007, and K5435.1 Cabeza de Vaca de-
scribed similar gourd rattles used in a medical
ceremony in Rio Concho, Texas (Covey 1961: 101-
The ﬁrst botanomorphic vessel rattle exam-
ined (Figs. 3a-b) is 15.5 cm long, black-slipped and
Fig. 2 Modern gourd rattle from Tala, Mexico, show-
ing shaft tip. Photograph by Kong F. Cheong.
1 Numbers preﬁxed with a capital ’K’ refer to Justin Kerr’s high resolution images, available at
www.mayavase.com either under “Maya Vase Database” or, in the case of the West Mexican
examples, under “A Precolumbian Portfolio.”
Fig. 3a-b Black-slipped ceramic gourd efﬁgy rattle
from Tala. Photograph a) by Kong F. Cheong.
Illustration b) by Rebecca Bradshaw.
88 Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
in the shape of a gourd. The hollow body of the
gourd forms the resonating chamber which con-
tains 17 sound holes arranged in ﬁve rows, with
the ﬁrst row having ﬁve holes, followed by four
holes, three holes, then another four holes, and ﬁ-
nally one hole. The rattle also contains numerous
free-ﬂoating materials that act as the percussive
agents. As the rattle is in one piece and the parts
cannot be separated, the material comprising
these rattling agents is unknown, but probably
they are small ceramic clay balls. Similar ceram-
ic versions of gourd rattles are found widely in
archaeological contexts in Mexico (Fig. 4).2 The
pointed tip at the distal end may represent a ves-
sel rattle made of a natural gourd with a wooden
handle inserted through the center of the gourd
head with a protruding shaft tip of the handle.
The second botanomorphic rattle is red-slipped
and gourd-shaped (Figs. 5a-b), measuring 16 cm
long. It has a set of two parallel white bands paint-
ed horizontally at its maximum width. A set of
two parallel white bands is also painted where the
handle meets the rattle head. This gourd shaped
resonator has seven sound holes with one verti-
cal row containing three holes while two other
vertical rows on the side directly opposite con-
tain two holes each. Similar to the black-slipped
gourd efﬁgy rattle, it is unbroken and may con-
tain small clay rattling pellets. This specimen also
has a pointed shaft tip projecting from the head
of the rattle.
The third botanomorphic rattle is a twin vessel
gourd efﬁgy that is black-slipped and has simi-
lar dimensions to those described above, measur-
ing 18 cm in length (Figs. 6a-b). This rattle con-
sists of one handle branching into the two vessel
rattles. The resonator chambers have 18 and 15
sound holes, respectively. While the two resona-
tor chambers are intact, the handle is broken at
Fig. 4 Ceramic rattles from West Mexico on display at the Museo de Antropología, Mexico
City. Photograph by Roger Blench.
Fig. 5a-b Red-slipped ceramic gourd efﬁgy rattle from
Tala. Photograph a) by Kong F. Cheong. Illus-
tration b) by Rebecca Bradshaw.
2 The specimens shown in Figure 4 also include a ceramic copy of a bronze pellet bell such as tho-
se illustrated in Hosler 1994.
Ceramic Vessel Rattles 89
the point just before it branches out. This rattle
might likewise contain clay pellets used as per-
cussive strikers in the resonator chambers. Both
vessel rattles have pointed shaft tips on the end
of the rattle heads. The additional ﬁgure shows
a twentieth-century double gourd rattle from the
Zacatecas area presently in the collection of the
Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas (Fig. 7).
A ceramic vessel rattle in the shape of a gourd
(Figs. 8a-d) has an anthropomorphic handle
showing a standing individual with hands on ei-
ther side of his or her abdomen. It measures 19.2
cm in height, with the bulb of the gourd forming
the resonating chamber. There are a total of 12
sound holes with one vertical row of four in the
front and two other vertical rows with four holes
each on the side, but none on the back. The face
has “coffee bean” eyes and mouth, and a dispro-
portionately large nose. Curiously, it has no chest
or neck, with a hole located where a bellybutton
should be, penetrating the ﬁgure with a similar-
ly sized hole on the back. This hole might have
functioned to suspend the instrument when at-
tached to a player’s garment.
Zoomorphic forms depicting dogs, birds,
snakes, felines, and various other animals are
also observed in ceramic music instruments in
West Mexico, and in fact throughout Mesoamer-
ica. The zoomorphic vessel rattle presented here
(Figs. 9a-d) measures 10 cm in height and depicts
a mammal seated with both of its paws resting on
its face just below the eyes. Alternating streaks
of red and white paint are painted on its side and
back (Fig. 9b). The body forms the resonating
chamber, with seven sound holes on the front and
eleven on the back. Again, this specimen seems to
have free-ﬂoating clay ball strikers inside. Sever-
al animals were considered as candidates for the
model. One is the hairless dog of West Mexican
iconography, but in addition to the lack of a tail,
the position of the legs is unnatural for a dog. The
absence of a tail likewise eliminates the coati, al-
though the efﬁgy has the right body color. Based
especially on head features, the humped and
striped back, and the white abdomen, we propose
the paca (Cuniculus) as the animal represented
(Fig. 10). If correct, and considering the shape of
the belly, this paca could be pregnant.
As mentioned earlier, ceramic music instru-
ments sometimes mimic the shape of ones made
of organic materials. In this assemblage, a ceram-
ic vessel rattle imitates one made of bark rolled
into a cylindrical shape. It is a ﬂat-top cylinder
with a portion of its handle broken and missing
Fig. 6a-b Black-slipped ceramic double gourd efﬁ-
gy rattle from Tala. Photograph a) by Kong F.
Cheong. Illustration b) by Rebecca Bradshaw.
Fig. 7 Modern double gourd rattle from the Zacate-
cas area on display at the Museo Rafael Coro-
nel, Zacatecas. Photograph by Roger Blench.
90 Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
Fig. 8a-d Ceramic vessel rattle in the shape of a gourd with an anthropomorphic handle from
Tala. Photographs a) and b) by Kong F. Cheong. Illustrations c) and d) by Rebecca
Fig. 9a-d Zoomorphic paca ceramic rattle from Tala. Photographs a) and b) by Kong F. Cheong.
Illustrations c) and d) by Rebecca Bradshaw.
Fig. 10 Paca (cuniculus). Photograph by Marge
Fig. 11a-b Cylindrical ceramic rattle from Tala. Pho-
tograph a) by Kong F. Cheong. Illustration b)
by Rebecca Bradshaw.
Ceramic Vessel Rattles 91
(Figs. 11a-b). Decorated with a geometric design
painted in red and yellow on the top and bot-
tom of the cylinder it nevertheless appears roller
stamped. In its current broken state, the instru-
ment measures 10.5 cm in length, with 5.5 cm
of that being the rattle head. This head is intact
and may contain clay balls. Its design is cylindri-
cal with a ﬂat-top but lacks a shaft tip like those
found on ceramic gourd rattles. The cylinder con-
stitutes the resonating chamber with two vertical
rows of four holes each on opposite sides. Due to
its cylindrical shape we believe this instrument
is a copy of a bark rattle similar to the one on
display in the Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacate-
cas (Fig. 12) and a nineteenth-century cylindrical
Ojibwa mide rattle (Rees 2014: Fig.4).
The ﬁnal vessel rattle documented here was
a surface ﬁnd in Teuchitlan. It consists of two
mammiform resonators protruding from the solid
ring handle (Figs 13a-b). These resonators are 7.7
cm in length as measured from the ring base. The
maximum length of the resonators and the ring
is 16 cm. There are two sound holes in each rattle
head, on opposite sides near the base of the ves-
sel and near the ring. One resonator has an earli-
er fracture, which may have been mended by the
individual who found it. Both vessels still contain
small clay balls. The rattle was either shaken by
holding the ring or was worn by the player. The
ring’s inside diameter of 8 cm is too small for the
hand of an average adult male to pass through,
but could theoretically be worn on the wrist by
a woman, although this seems unlikely (see be-
low). The ring might also have been draped with
cloth or leather to allow it to be worn around the
hip of the wearer. A near identical vessel rattle
described as early Ixtlán del Río phase (AD 0-
400) is part of the Peter Crossley-Holland collec-
tion (No. 52). It measures 12 cm in height and 11.5
cm in width, with two white striped mammiform
resonating chambers closely spaced on the ring
handle (Arnd Adje Both, pers. com. 2014). Otto
Schöndube (1986: Foto 11) presents another simi-
lar ring vessel rattle with only one spherical res-
onator chamber representing the torso of a man,
also believed to have originated in Jalisco during
the shaft tomb phase.
West Mexican Vessel Rattles
The study of West Mexican pre-Columbian mu-
sic primarily relies on qualitative studies of spec-
imens in private or museum collections. One ex-
ception is Hasso von Winning’s (1974) quantita-
Fig. 12 A modern cylindrical bark rattle from the Za-
catecas area on display at the Museo Rafael
Coronel, Zacatecas. Photograph by Roger
Fig. 13a-b Ceramic double vessel rattle on a ring han-
dle from Teuchitlan. Photograph a) by Kong F.
Cheong. Illustration b) by Rebecca Bradshaw.
Collection Obj. Hollow
Type of instrument
Cymbal Drum /
Whistle Rasp Rattle Trumpet
AMNH 917 73 10 64 2 11 5† 0 6 10 3 5 2
Bowers Museum 20 5 1 3 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 1
Museum 12 12 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
of Art 6 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Museum 5 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
FAMSI Kerr* 124 38 5 19 2 3 6† 0 1 1 0 8 2
LACMA 204 81 9 22 2 5 5 1 7 7 0 7 2
Museum 11 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
Museo Soumaya 83 24 3 6 1 11 0 0 0 13 1 0 1
of Victoria 73 11 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Museum 9 7 2 0 0 0 1† 0 1 1 0 1 0
The MET 63 24 0 8 2 3 2 0 1 0 1 2 1
Vilcek Found. 8 5 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Museum 34 5 1 5 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0
Yale Art Gallery 69 30 2 19 1 2 8 0 1 3 0 0 1
Grand total 1638 325 35 149 10 38 31 1 18 37 6 24 11
Table 1 Museum collections surveyed for music instruments and ﬁgurines holding/playing instruments. Only ﬁgurines showing both hands were in-
cluded, and “model scene” is deﬁned as any architecture or scene with 4+ individuals. * = known duplets with listed collections excluded. † = one
model scene with instruments. Note that ﬁgures or model scenes may display multiple instruments, a reason why the “Type of instrument”
counts may not add up with the ﬁgurine and instrument counts.
Ceramic Vessel Rattles 93
tive approach which uses a large dataset from sur-
veyed collections. We have adopted this method-
ology and formally surveyed 1638 West Mexican
ceramic objects in museum collections to offer
more reliable observations of West Mexican mu-
sic culture through a large and well-deﬁned data-
set. All surveyed objects are, to our knowledge,
devoid of reliable archaeological context. Of this
corpus 83 objects were either music instruments
or representations of ﬁgures holding or playing
music instruments (Table 1). All but two of the
surveys were made using online digitized col-
lections provided to us by the respective institu-
tions. The remaining two, the Soumaya Museum
in Mexico City, and the Danish National Museum
in Copenhagen, were surveyed on-site in 2011. As
Table 1 shows, roughly 10% of the hollow ﬁgu-
rines hold instruments, a number which is slight-
ly lower for the solid ﬁgures. However, these ﬁg-
ures cannot be considered statistically signiﬁcant
due to the small sample size and the possibility of
sample bias due to collector or museum digitiza-
tion preferences. Nonetheless it provides a rough
measure for the frequency of musical representa-
tions in West Mexican art.
The collated dataset on West Mexican vessel
rattles consists of twenty ﬁgurines holding rat-
tles, three model scenes displaying rattles, and
only two instruments (Table 2), in addition to the
seven documented above. Rattles are seen played
solo or as part of ensembles in three model scenes
from the AMNH, FAMSI, and Portland Art Muse-
um surveys, and are shown with ﬂutes, drums,
turtle carapaces, or shell trumpets, as well as
with dancers (see also von Winning and Hammer
1972; von Winning 1974; Crossley-Holland 1980:
1; Gallagher 1983: 67; Kan et al. 1989: 26, 46, 57,
71, 85; Butterwick 2004: 43-44). Some individuals
represented moreover play a rattle while simul-
taneously playing another idiophone or a mem-
branophone. The two surveyed vessel rattles (see
Table 2) are made of ﬁred clay, with one being an
exquisite representation of a gourd rattle trans-
forming into a female nurturing a child, the other
a rounded anthropomorphic vessel rattle of sig-
niﬁcantly lesser quality representing an individu-
al in full ﬁgure with hands resting on the chest.3
Together with the seven vessel rattles present-
ed here the corpus of vessel rattles for the sub-
sequent discussions consists of thirty-one repre-
sentations and actual vessel rattles, with all but
four representing gourds. The gourd is the icon-
ographic archetype of the pre-Columbian West
Mexican ceramic vessel rattle – an association
3 The former is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number
2007.72), while the latter is part of the LACMA Proctor Stafford Collection (accession number
M.86.296.201) (e.g. Kan et al. 1989).
Instrument type Figurines Instruments Model
Cymbal 1 0 0 1
carapace 15 0 3 18
Flute/Whistle 11 25 1 37
Rasp 5 1 0 6
Rattle 20 2 2 24
Trumpet 1 10 0 11
Table 2 The context of occurrence. Note that ﬁgurines and model scenes may display multiple
instruments, and their counts therefore do not give the number of ﬁgurines and model
94 Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
noted for many North and South American in-
digenous cultures (Wilson 1954: 122-124; Covey
1961: 101-102; Hammond 1972; Sullivan 1988;
Dennett and Kosyk 2013: 103, 109, 112).
The Gourd Rattle
The gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) was among the
earliest cultivated plant families in the Americas
(Cutler and Whitaker 1961; Browman et al. 2005:
314; Ramsey 2009; see also Vela 2010). The inedi-
ble bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), originally
from Africa, is recorded as having ﬂoated to the
New World as early as 10,000 BC, and dispersed
by megafauna. These wild population of natural-
ized gourd were later domesticated in several dis-
tinct locales (Kistler et al. 2014; see also Erickson
et al. 2005). Cross-culturally the gourd has long
been recognized and relied on as a receptacle for
storing and transporting food and liquids, as well
as for making utensils and music instruments
Fig. 14 Photograph of a display at the Museo Zacate-
cano, Zacatecas, showing a gourd rattle being
used in Huichol religious ceremonies. Photo-
graph by Roger Blench.
(Heiser 1979). This practice is mirrored in West
Mexico, as exempliﬁed by the ceramic gourd ef-
ﬁgy vessels of the Late Preclassic period (300 BC
- AD 200) as well as by ethnographic accounts of
the present-day Huichol (Lumholtz 1902). With
such a diachronic and synchronic dependence on
the gourd, it is not surprising that recent stud-
ies identify the gourd at the center of a pan-Me-
soamerican myth of fertility, creation, and re-
generation (Nielsen and Helmke 2013). As these
authors argue (ibid., 21), the gourd’s properties
for safely containing and transporting resources
necessary for the sustenance of human life trans-
form the plant into a life-giving vessel analogous
to a womb containing human life (see also Barber
and Barber 2004: 35-40, 97-112). This concept is
clearly shown in the famous Preclassic San Bar-
tolo Murals, where a cosmological splitting of
a gourd gives birth to ﬁve infants, each taking
one position on a ﬁve-point cosmogram mirror-
ing later Mesoamerican creation scenes (Saturno
et al. 2005). Similarly underscoring the cultural
importance of the gourd in the Preclassic period,
Nielsen and Helmke (2013: 29) draw attention to
the San Bartolo North Wall, which they interpret
as representing the Maize God bearing the gift of
principal cultigens to ﬁve individuals; the gourd
– not maize – being the focal point of the compo-
The Central Mexican Classic period Teotihua-
can culture seems to share a similar gourd-cre-
ation mythological narrative, as is, for example,
depicted on a stuccoed tripod vessel where an
unidentiﬁed individual is seen emerging from a
split gourd (Séjourné 1966: Fig. 94; Nielsen and
Helmke 2013: 25ff). Of particular interest here
is that the individual who is otherwise devoid
of diagnostic attire or attributes clearly carries a
The pan-Mesoamerican gourd/creation/fertil-
ity concept relayed through a mythological nar-
rative and present throughout the Preclassic and
Classic periods suggests that similar concepts ex-
isted in contemporary West Mexican societies.
The West Mexican rattle from the Metropolitan
Museum of Art (accession number 2007.72) per-
haps alludes to such a theme. This ceramic rat-
tle is partly shaped like a gourd rattle similar to
the specimens from Tala documented here, yet
one half of the gourd represents the upper body
of a naked mother nurturing her infant, thus es-
tablishing a clear visual link between gourds, hu-
mans, fertility, and sustenance. The image is vi-
sually and conceptually similar to Maya iconog-
Ceramic Vessel Rattles 95
raphy showing humans reborn as they sprout
from maize plants, emphasizing the physical
and mythological dependence on this crop (e.g.
K6547; Stuart 1992: 134-135).
Ethnographic studies of the Huichol people,
native to large parts of West Mexico, lend evi-
dence to the above gourd/fertility/sustenance
complex. Peter T. Furst (2007: 27) comments that
Huichol votive gourd bowls are considered “visu-
al metaphors for the life-giving womb.” Earlier,
Lumholtz (1904: 290) argued that “the double wa-
ter-gourd is the rain symbol par excellence” and
that “[it] has become the strongest symbol of wa-
ter,” thus underscoring its life-giving qualities.
The presence of a gourd/fertility complex in Pre-
classic West Mexico requires further supporting
archaeological evidence, but the above anecdotal
data illustrates the existence of such a belief in
contemporary Huichol communities. Lumholtz
was writing more than a century ago, but the per-
sistence of the gourd rattle in Huichol culture is
conﬁrmed by recent documentation in the Museo
Zacatecano, which shows the instrument’s cur-
rent use in religious ceremonies (Fig. 14).
For the Huichol, gourd rattles are the most
important instrument for communicating with
the supernatural realm and they are still of par-
amount importance for nearly all activities per-
formed by ritual specialists (Lumholtz 1900,
1902; Kindl 2000). Moreover, the participants in
Deer dance rituals not only performed by the Hu-
ichol, but also by their neighbors, the Yaqui and
Mayo, use various rattling instruments, especial-
ly hand-held gourd rattles, to connect themselves
by sound to the supernatural world (Toor 1947:
331-332; Spicer 1964; Crumrine 1977: 100-101;
Varela 1986). The gourd as a medium for commu-
nicating with the supernatural might explain its
ubiquity as a material for rattle making and im-
portant ritual use.
Monopolizing Music in West Mexico
Based on observations derived from c. 1200 ce-
ramic objects of which an unknown relate to
West Mexican music culture, Hasso von Winning
(1974: 56), argued that music performance in pre-
Columbian West Mexican societies was monop-
olized by men. Otto Schöndube (1986: 104-106)
later observed that dancing was for both sexes.
Our survey of 1638 objects including 45 ﬁgurines
and three model scenes (see Table 1) strongly
supports but does not fully corroborate this hy-
pothesis. All performers but two are male. The
two female music performers are currently in the
American Museum of Natural History collections
(catalog numbers 30/2223 and 30/9713) and both
are hollow ﬁgurines. Since there are just two, the
widespread practice of forging hollow ﬁgurines
calls for a qualitative assessment of their authen-
ticity. The ﬁrst ﬁgurine measures 19 cm in height
and represents a kneeling female with feet under
her bottom, arms outstretched with one holding
a gourd rattle. The head features “coffee bean”
eyes, slit mouth, and a visible hair line, but is oth-
erwise devoid of diagnostic features. The ﬁgu-
rine does not appear to have been painted, and
only minor clouding interrupts the monochrome
cream paste look. According to Robert Pickering
and Cheryl Smallwood-Roberts’ authenticity in-
dex ranging from (A) “Genuine,” over (B) “Possi-
bly genuine,” and (C) “Dubious,” to (D) “No diag-
nostic variables present” (2014:59), this ﬁgurine
receives the latter score (D). The ﬁgurine, as so
many others, has no archaeological context, no
insect purpura, root markings, nor dirt incrusta-
tions verifying its authenticity. This, however, is
not to say that the ﬁgurine is a forgery. The sec-
ond female ﬁgurine is smaller in size, being only
10.7 cm in height. It shows a seated woman who
appears to have both hands placed on an object
in the shape of a small rounded portable drum,
perhaps a single-headed frame drum. The wom-
an wears a skirt painted red, with arm rings, as
well as a necklace, earrings and a headdress. The
ﬁgurine scores a (B), “Possibly genuine,” due to
the presence of dirt incrustations. Although the
identiﬁcation of the object as a drum can be chal-
lenged, we nevertheless consider it so due to the
characteristic position of the hands resting on it.
If genuine, at least one female is then repre-
sented in the act of playing an instrument. Either
this indicates that women were allowed access to
the production of music, or perhaps the ﬁgurine
reﬂects a local rupture with a West Mexican male-
dominated music tradition. It should be remem-
bered that iconography and ethnographic reali-
ty are not identical; so the dominance of males
in music instrument performance may reﬂect
the preferences of male musicians by the sculp-
tors, or the people commissioning the works. If
men were the ceramicists they may have mere-
ly omitted women performers for personal rea-
sons. Therefore, we should exercise great care in
building complex theoretical structures on such
shaky foundations. Nevertheless, the practice of
segregating music instruments or music perfor-
mances by gender is well-attested to in past and
96 Kong F. Cheong, Mads S. Jorgensen, and Roger Blench
present societies (e.g. Doubleday 2008; Stobart
2008). It is therefore possible that the entire life
cycle of West Mexican music instruments, from
production to deposition, was monopolized by
men, though additional quantitative and qualita-
tive data from excavated contexts are needed to
The paper describes in some detail six ceramic
vessel rattles from one collection and a seventh
found elsewhere, all ascribed to the pre-Colum-
bian cultures of West Mexico. Regrettably these
were not found in secure archaeological contexts
and so dating and provenience are approximate.
The existing literature is also largely based on un-
provenanced ﬁnds, but the scale of the datasets
is large enough to draw some basic conclusions.
That said, we have been and encourage others to
be very cautious when attributing musical prac-
tices to past societies. Drawing together a global
catalogue of ﬁnds of musical signiﬁcance, with
associated contextual data (or lack of it) remains
Ceramic vessel rattles are no longer made by
the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, but the
instruments from organic materials on which
they were based continue to thrive. Although
gourd and bark rattles are still in use, they are
being quickly replaced in secular performances
by versions made of scrap metal (Marlett 2014:
66, Fig. 3.55). The gourd was the archetype icono-
graphic source for the vessel rattle in the Preclas-
sic period. Like maize, gourds played an impor-
tant role in Mesoamerican cosmogony and their
association with fertility is proven in several rep-
resentations. How far this can be linked to West
Mexican society is open to question. It is also the
case that the symbolic role of rattling objects in
contemporary indigenous societies remains lit-
tle-researched, although a connection would pro-
vide a valuable resource for interpreting the ar-
Another aspect of musical representations in
ancient Mexico that was indirectly discovered
in our study was the near absence of female per-
formers. The ethnographic record attests to their
rarity in ceremonies performed in indigenous so-
cieties today, so it is likely that this absence was
also the case in the pre-Columbian era. However,
in terms of female singers and dancers the situ-
ation is less clear. In the future, more careful ex-
ploration of the datasets summarized in this pa-
per and analysis of other museum collections can
throw more light on this issue.
We would like to extend our gratitude to Christopher Beekman and Verenice Heredia
Espinoza for the invitation to conduct research in Teuchitlan and Tala, and the rest
of the participants of the Proyecto Arqueológico Teuchitlán for their warm welcome.
We would also like to thank Nichole Abbott and Catherine Johns for assisting us with
the collection at Los Guachimontones. We express much appreciation to Guadalupe
Romero, the director of the Museo Arqueológico Tlallan, for assisting us with collec-
tions located in Tala. Additionally, we would like to thank Arnd Adje Both for infor-
mation regarding rattles in the Peter Crossley-Holland Collection, and ﬁnally Rebecca
Bradshaw of the Santa Fe Institute for the illustrations and Marge Gallagher of Moon-
racer Farm, Belize for the picture of the paca. Roger Blench would also like to thank
the Museo de Antropología, Mexico City, Museo Rafael Coronel and Museo Zacateca-
no, Zacatecas for the opportunity to photograph their collections. All of us would also
like to thank Matthias Stöckli and Mark Howell, our Flower World volume editors for
their excellent editing. Unless otherwise stated, all interpretations and/or shortcom-
ings are the responsibility of the authors.
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