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sound that first ascends and then falls, like the cry of the native quetzal.
To Lubman, the dimensions of Kukulcan's steps suggest that the builders intended just
such an acoustical mimicry. The lower steps have a short tread length and high riser—
tough to climb but perfect for producing a high-pitched "chir" sound. The steps higher
up make a lower-pitched "roop."
"If you have a structure with these dimensions, it will chirp," Lubman says. He has
noted the same effect at the Pyramid of the Magician in the Classic Mayan city of
Uxmal, near Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula.
Lubman and Mexican researchers led by Sergio Beristain, president of the Mexican
Institute of Acoustics, have investigated acoustical phenomena in Chichen Itza and the
great ancient metropolis, Teotihuacan...
At Kukulcan, Lubman made recordings of the echo and compared them with
recordings of the quetzal from Cornell University's ornithology lab, in Ithaca, N.Y.
"They matched perfectly. I was stunned," Lubman says. "The Temple of Kukulcan
chirps like a kuk."
Lubman envisions Mayan priests facing a crowd at Kukulcan and clapping. The
pyramid would then "answer" in the voice of the quetzal, a messenger of the Gods.
Read more about David Lubman's discovery at
Read a lay version of Dave's paper to the Acoustical Society of America:
Clap your hands in front of the 1,100-
year-old Temple of Kukulcan, in the
ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza,
and, to some researchers' ears, the
pyramid answers in the voice of the
sacred quetzal bird.
"Now I have heard echoes in my life,
but this was really strange," says
David Lubman, an acoustical
engineer who runs his own firm in
Westminster, California. The Maya,
he believes, may have built their
pyramids to create specific sound
A handclap at the base of Kukulcan's
staircase generates what Lubman
calls a "chirped echo"—a "chir-roop"
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|Answer to Quiz #92
January 15, 2007
|When you clap your hands in front of this structure,
you will hear the call of a sacred bird.
1. What is the name of this structure?
2. Where is it located?
3. What is the name of the sacred bird?
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1. El Castillo, or Kukulkan Pyramid
2. Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
3. Quetzal, Sacred Bird of the Mayas
at Chichen Itza, the end of this Maya
capital is now being pushed back over
200 years. Archaeological data now
indicates that Chichen Itza fell by
around AD 1000. This leaves an
enigmatic gap between the fall of
Chichen Itza and its successor,
Mayapan. Ongoing research at the site
of Mayapan may help resolve this
In 1531 Spanish Conquistador
Francisco de Montejo claimed Chichén
Itzá and intended to make it the capital
of Spanish Yucatán, but after a few
|Comments from Our Readers
Hmmmm how about Chichen Itza - the wonderful pyramid in Mexico. It's located on
the main highway between Cancun and Merida - about a day's drive from Cancun. And
the Quetzal, what a beautiful and mysterious bird - the sacred bird of Chichen Itza. I
saw several while visiting Belize and Ecuador. They are so quiet and so still as they sit
on a branch - yet so colorful when seen. Although the Quetzel is not easy to find, it is a
fairly common bird in the right habitat. It is very quiet and still as it sits on a limb -
almost blends in despite its outstanding color display.
. Marty Guidry
I've actually been to this pyramid and it's really cool unless you are afraid of tight
places. Inside it's a mighty small walkway. The entire site is awesome.
The chirp is wild. I could swear no one mentioned that when I was there, but that
must have been… 15 years ago? Is Dave’s discovery relatively new? Wow, to have a
friend who discovered the secret of the pyramid… that’s worth a mystery novel right
there! <g> Kristi Murdock
An interesting note of the pyramid is the progression of the shadow of the steps at
summer and winter solstices. The shadows progress from the large snake heads at the
bottom of the steps to the top as the sun rises, and opposite during the winter solstice.
Having personally climbed the steps of Kulkulkan, I can testify to the steepness.
The Maya name "Chich'en Itza" means "At the mouth
of the well of the Itza ". Although this was the usual
name for the site in pre-Columbian times, it is also
referred to in the ancient chronicles as Uucyabnal,
meaning "Seven Great Rulers".
The name is often represented as Chichén Itzá in
The Yucatán has no above-ground rivers, so the fact
that there were three natural sink holes (cenotes)
providing plentiful water year round at Chichen made
it a natural spot for a center of population. Two of
these cenotes are still in existence, the most famous
being the legendary "Cenote of Sacrifice", which was
sacred to worshipers of the Maya rain god Chaac.
Offerings of jade, pottery, and incense were thrown
into the great well as offerings to Chaac, and
occasionally during times of desperate drought a
Chichen was a major center by about 600 in the
middle of the Maya Classic period, but the city saw its
greatest growth and power after the Maya sites of the
central lowlands to the south had already collapsed. It
is believed that the city was governed through
councils of royal families called Mul Tepal or
“joint rule” rather than a single powerful ruler.
The Maya chronicles record that in 1221 a
revolt and civil war broke out, and
archeological evidence seemed to confirm that
the wooden roofs of the great market and the
Temple of the Warriors were burnt at about
this date. Chichen Itza went into decline as
rulership over Yucatán shifted to Mayapan.
This long-held chronology, however, has
been drastically revised in recent years. As
archaeologists improve their knowledge of
changes in regional ceramics, and more
radiocarbon dates arise out of ongoing work
(Top) Steps up front of the pyramid
of Kukulcan; (Center and bottom)
Columns in the Temple of a 1000
|Click here for a modern 360 degree panorama view of Chichen Itza.
Some of the earliest
photographs of Chichen
Itza, taken by the French
Charnay (1828-1915). They representative
of the range of images he took of
Meso-American archaeological sites during
three tours of Mexico in 1858-1860 and
1880-1886. Although some of the images
have suffered an unfortunate degree of
fading, they convey the power and
fascination that these sites held for
Charnay and his contemporaries, and
include some of the best early examples of
the use of photography in the
documentation of Mexican archaeology.
Read more about Desire Charnay and the
Abbott-Charnay photograph collection at:
(Top Left) Chichen Itza 1860; (Top
Right) The facade of El Castillo
(1860); (Bottom) Statue of Chac Mool
Tourists climbing the steps of El
Castillo (Temple of Kukulcan) ta
Chichen Itza. This is no longer
permitted. In 2005, a woman had a
heart attack while climbing the pyramid,
and grabbed another tourist as she tried
to catch herself. They both fell to the
bottom of the pyramid and were killed.
It was practice in Mesoamerican cities to
periodically build larger and grander temple
pyramids atop older ones, and this is one
such example. Thanks to archaeologists, a
doorway at the base of the north stairway
leads to a tunnel, from which one can
climb the steps of the earlier version of El
Castillo inside the current one, up to the
room on the top where you can see King
Kukulcan's Jaguar Throne, carved of stone
and painted red with jade spots. The design of the older pyramid inside is said to be a
lunar calendar, with the newer pyramid being a solar calendar. Following a fatal fall
from the top, tourists are no longer allowed to climb to the top of the pyramid.
Note: Because of safety concerns, tourists no longer have access to the tunnel to view
the jaguar throne.
The Resplendent Quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno is a spectacular bird of the trogon
family. It is found from southern Mexico to western Panama (unlike the other quetzals,
which are found in South America and eastern Panama). There are two subspecies, P.
m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis, the Costa Rican Resplendent Quetzal. This quetzal
plays an important role in Mesoamerican myth.
The Resplendent Quetzal was considered divine, associated with the "snake god,"
Quetzalcoatl by Pre-Columbian Central American civilizations. Their iridescent green tail
feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Mayas and
Aztecs, who viewed the quetzal as the "god of the air" and as a symbol of goodness and
light. Mesoamerican rulers and some nobility of other ranks wore headdresses made
from quetzal feathers, symbolically connecting them to Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was
the creator god and god of wind, often depicted with grey hair. In several
Mesoamerican languages, the term for quetzal can also mean precious, sacred or
|The World's Oldest Sound Recording?
|Dear Colleen and Andy,
Here's exactly what you asked for. http://www.ocasa.org/chirp.htm
My recent work on the Great Ball Court is also getting attention. I can't remember how
much of it I sent you, but here are three URLs.
My lay paper: http://www.acoustics.org/press/152nd/lubman.html Unfortunately, the
links to sounds of a growling jaguar and rattle of their local rattlesnake was not included.
A report in Discovery Channel News:
My Dec 1 paper - worked into a review of Mel Gibson's "Apocalypso" at
In the great Ball Court, try to get any official to allow each of you to alight the stages of
the two end temples. Then talk to each other. Try it also with one of you on a temple
stage and another in the playing field (between the two parallel walls.) I did it while
standing in the playing field with talkers in each of the end temples. I conversed with
talkers in each temple, and they conversed with each other. I was in the playing field,
and a large crowd of acousticians and their travel companions stood by as silent
earwitnesses. It blew their minds!
Also, stand between the two parallel walls, clap your hands, and count how long you
can sustain the flutter echo. Also try yelling words or short phrase into the wall, and
listen to the echoes, heard by traditional Maya as spirit voices of thousands of their
|Was Maya Pyramid Designed to Chirp Like a Bird?
Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
December 6, 2002
First two chirps are repeated quetzel chirps,
second two chirps are echoes from steps of