1,200 year old telephone

Useful for, say coordinating an attack, or whispering between two groupsof hunters?

In-building applications might also be considered: masonry eats sound pretty effectively(or echo-mangles it into obscurity if you shout). If I were the local potentate, having a mechanism for telling the servants what I’ll be having for lunch this afternoon without exerting my royal self would totally be worth it…

(It could also have been a tech demo, without any immediately practical use, knocked together by somebody high enough on the food chain to have spare time purely because that person thought that it was pretty cool and wanted a neat effect to show off to others. While ‘R&D’ in the contemporary, organized-laboratories-and-big-science-with-emphasis-on-industry-and-war sense is suspected of being relatively new, ‘Natural philosophers’ showing each other neat tricks that they are poking at is much older, and craftsmen wowing the nobility with clockworks and things are older still.

We will probably never be able to get inside the head of whoever made it; but if the 3rd-rear-priest-of-the-feathered-serpent learned as a kid about how much better sound carries when you press your ear against the door/wall and spent his spare time trying to understand that better, that’d be a totally understandable, totally human, process that might culminate in a cups-and-string apparatus, without there being any broader ‘utility’ aside from the satisfaction of the builder’s curiosity.)


Duuuude…don’t harsh the mellow, 'k?

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Old Leonard of Quirm, he got about, man.

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But you can’t whisper a weed order across 75 feet while your Chimu mom and step dad are in the next room of the hut

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There’s a centuries-old toy noisemaker, popular in Peru, which consists of a rawhide membrane bound tightly over the large end of a frustrum-shaped section of gourd.

A waxed cord is knotted though a hole through the center of the membrane, which the player grips tightly with thumb and forefingers, and then slides his fingers along the cord, vibrating the membrane.

With a little practice, it makes a noise rather like a squawking chicken, and is often sold as a “chicken drum.”

It’s the lineal ancestor of the greeting cards that play a tune by dragging a thumbnail along a ridged plastic strip attached to a cardboard-card diaphragm.

It’s a very small conceptual leap from using your fingers to vibrate a drum diaphragm by pulling on a cord, to attaching that cord to another diaphragm to see if you can vibrate it that way.

And I’d bet dollars to donuts it was used exactly the same way that tin-can versions are used today: as a toy to amuse children.


I hate to disagree (not really) but I suspect it is not a two way communications device but an audio playback device. Has anyone tried running their fingernails along the string to hear what sound it makes? This would also explain why they never bothered with writing.

Just use the (hilarious) cop-out that archeologists always seem to adopt when they dig up some funerary site loaded with enough weed to keep the shaman or whoever buried there blasted out of his skull for most of eternity: “Oh, we suspect that the psychoactive plants buried with the shaman must have had a ritual purpose in the religious practices of X culture…”

‘Hey, man, I need a dimebag of ‘communion with the ancestor spirits’, if you know what I mean…’

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Aliens did it.

Shades of Gilligan’s Island. Except no coconuts.

It’s a shoelace. With really big aglets.

I was thinking something between that and a bullroarer and various other sound producing devices…

several examples can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friction_drum

Because of the little AT&T logo inside.
Also: jump-ropes 1200 years before Rocky - really.

The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional — and too fragile to test out.

Bush telegraph.

I made a can telephone once, following directions in a Donald Duck comic that was free with a pair of shoes. Both ends are cut off, and one end has a membrane made of grocery sack paper, greased, with a hole in it and a button attached to the string (repeat for other end). The membrane approach is way better than just using a can with the top cut off. Which is itself better, of course, than using a can with the top still on.

In a way, I suppose cantennas – especially the simple end-firing coffeecantenna design – can be considered a high-tech version of the can-and-string phone…

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