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Flutopedia Symposium

The Flutes of Pueblo Bonito

James H. Simpson, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, first came upon Chaco Canyon during a 1849 military expedition. Chano Canyon is in Chaco Culture National Historical Park in present-day New Mexico.

Simpson was accompanied by Carravahal, a guide from San Juan Pueblo. The expedition briefly examined eight of the larger ruins in Chaco Canyon, including the location named by Carravahal as “Pueblo Bonito” (“pretty village” in Spanish). After the conclusion of his expedition, Simpson published a description of Chaco Canyon in his military report, with drawings by expedition artist R. H. Kern ([USCTE 1850]).


Pueblo Bonito Arial View 2009

Arial view of Pueblo Bonito
Bob Adams, Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 26, 2009 Larger image

Encrusted objects from Pueblo Bonito

Encrusted objects from Pueblo Bonito More information

From 1896 through 1900, George H. Pepper, under the direction of F. W. Putnam, led the first archaeological expedition to excavate the ruins of Pueblo Bonito. A room in the Northwestern part of Pueblo Bonito was found to contain eight wood flutes and other ceremonial objects, and was given the designation “Room 33” by Pepper ([Pepper 1909]).

These flutes are listed as being from the Pueblo II era (900-1150 CE) in [Payne 1989], page 18 ¶4, probably due to the 1935 dendrochronology dating of timbers at the Pueblo Bonito site ([Douglass 1935], page 51) which lists a cumulative date range of 919-1130 CE for 65 specimins dated. They are listed as Pueblo III specimens in [Morris-EA 1959], page 410. However, recent radiocarbon dating on two of the burials in Room 33 (AMNH H3671 and AMNH H3672) determined the dates of both of these burials to be 690-944 CE ([Coltrain 2007] The Stable- and Radio-Isotope Chemistry of Western Basketmaker Burials: Implications for Early Puebloan Diets and Origins, page 306).

Here is a summary of the information on these flutes, collected from various sources, including [Pepper 1909] and [Pepper 1920] Pueblo Bonito. Each flute is identified by the numbering assigned originally by Pepper:

H-4563

Location: Northeast corner of Room 33.

Pueblo Bonito flute H-4563
Design of Pueblo Bonito flute H-4563

Pueblo Bonito flute H-4563 and a rendition of the design if it were laid flat More information More information

Preservation: complete flute.

Finishing: elaborate black, orange, and green decoration with gum coating.

Four finger holes, average interval 6.1 cm (2.40″), each 6 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: complete flute is 69 cm long (27.2″), 2.3 × 2.1 cm diameter (0.91″ × 0.83″) at the foot end tapering to 1.5 cm diameter (0.59″) at the head end.

Wall thickness: 2 mm at the foot end. At the center: 6 mm on one side and 3 mm on the opposite side.

Mouthpiece: beveled to an average thickness of 1 mm.

H-4563 Reproduction by Marlon Magdalena

Marlon Magdalena crafts flutes of various style using the general ornamental design of the painted flute from Room 33, H-4563. This flute made made of maple wood and acrylic paint appears on Marlon's Ælu'æki web site (pronounced [a-loo a-kee], literally “young elk” in English):

Reproduction of Pueblo Bonito H-4563 by Marlon Magdalena

Flute using the ornamental design of Pueblo Bonito H-4563 by Marlon Magdalena Larger image

 

Detail of flute by Marlon Magdalena

Detail of flute by Marlon Magdalena Larger image

Marlon visited Pueblo Bonito Room 33 at Chaco Canyon and played this flute on May 19, 2009. Visit his Ælu'æki web site for the story together with Marlon's story of the flute and playing it at Pueblo Bonito, as well as a link to a YouTube video with his playing.



Six Pueblo Bonito Flutes

Six Pueblo Bonito Flutes More information

H-4560

Location: Northeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: complete flute, warped, assembled from two fragments broken near the center.

Material: cottonwood.

Finishing: plain, no decoration.

Four finger holes, 5.6 cm between hole 1-2, 6.8 cm between 2-3, 5.6 cm between 3-4. Average hole size is 6 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: complete flute is 69.5 cm long, 2.5 cm diameter at the foot end tapering to 1.7 cm diameter at the head end.

Wall thickness: 4 mm average at the foot end. At the center: 6 mm on one side and 3 mm on the opposite side.

H-4557

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: flute fragment — only two finger holes preserved.

Finishing: plain, no decoration.

Finger holes: 2 finger holes preserved, 4.2 cm between them. Average hole size is 3 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: flute fragment is 36 cm long, 4 cm diameter at the foot end.

H-4558

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: flute fragment — lower portion below finger hole 2 is preserved.

Finishing: plain, no decoration.

Finger holes 3 and 4 preserved — 4.1 cm between them. Average hole size is 3 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: flute fragment is 35 cm long, 2.1 cm diameter at the foot end tapering to 1.3 cm diameter at the head end.

Wall thickness: 3 mm average at the foot end. Head end is missing.

H-4559

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: Perfect, complete flute.

Finishing: plain, no decoration.

Four finger holes. Hole 1 is 5 mm in diameter. Hole 1-2 distance is 4.5 cm. Hole 2-3 distance is 4.7 cm. Hole 3-4 distance is 4.3 cm. Average hole size is 4 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: complete flute is 51.5 cm long, 2.5 cm diameter at the foot end tapering to 1.5 cm diameter at the head end.

H-4561

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: flute fragment — lower portion only.

Finishing: carved figure of a bear in relief.

Finger holes 3 and 4 preserved — 4.3 cm between them. Each hole is 4 mm in diameter.

Dimensions: flute fragment is 36 cm long, 2.5 cm diameter at the foot end.

Wall thickness: 4 mm average at the foot end. Head end is missing.

H-4562

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: flute fragment — lower portion only.

Finishing: carved figure of a mountain lion in relief.

Finger holes 2 to 4 are preserved - 4.1 cm between holes 2-3 and 3-4. Each hole is 3 mm in diameter. Holes are not perfectly round — they are longer on the median line of the flute.

Dimensions: flute fragment is 38.5 cm long, 2.5 cm diameter at the foot end.

Wall thickness: 4 mm average at the foot end. Head end is missing.

Large Flute from Southeastern Corner

This “flageolet of extraordinary size” was described in [Pepper 1909], page 217 but the identifying number was not provided.

Pueblo Bonito Large Flute

Pueblo Bonito Large Flute More information

Location: Southeast corner of Room 33.

Preservation: found in four pieces. “From the space between the note-openings, it would seem that a small portion is missing.”

Material: cottonwood-root.

Finishing: no decorations on the surface, nor has the surface been carefully smoothed.

Four finger holes. Distance between holes 3-4 is 10 cm. Average hole diameter is 1 cm.

Dimensions: nearly complete flute is 108 cm (1 meter, 8 cm) long. Average outside diameter is 4.2 cm, tapering down at the head end and increasing toward the foot end.

The bore is 1.8 cm in diameter at the mouth end, 2.5 cm at hole 3, and nearly 3.5 cm at the foot end.

Wall thickness: 4 mm average at the foot end. Head end is missing.

H-7270, Wooden flute, Room 85

One additional flute is shown in [Pepper 1920] Pueblo Bonito that is not mentioned in [Pepper 1909], this “wooden flute” shown on page 279 in Figure 122. It is listed as number 7270:

Flute H-7270, from Room 85, Pueblo Bonito

Flute H-7270, from Room 85, Pueblo Bonito More information

It is listed as one of two flutes found in Room 85 ([Pepper 1920] Pueblo Bonito, page 369). No other information is known about this artifact.

Summary

In summarizing these flutes, Pepper writes ([Pepper 1909], page 250):

To students of Pueblo life, the flageolets are undoubtedly the most interesting specimens. Instruments of this nature have been found in other ruins, including cliff-dwellings, and fragments were unearthed in other parts of Pueblo Bonito; but the series taken from this room furnishes conclusive evidence of the type of flageolet used in this pueblo, and demonstrates also the style of decoration employed and the application of the decorative elements. Judging from the prevalence of Flute observances and the large Flute fraternity among the Hopi, it may be safe to assume that certain persons at least, if not all of the men buried in this room, had been members of a similar order. Students of Pueblo rites and societies assert that the Flute clan is a very old one; and as the flutes used in the Hopi ceremonials of the present time are similar to those found in room 33, it may be that the type has been handed down from the early days; nor would it be surprising to find that the Flute societies had their beginning in the Chaco region, as many of the clan migrations have been traced from this group to their present home in the province of Tusayan in Arizona.

According to [Payne 1989], page 20 ¶1, these flutes are now in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but I have not been able to locate them, as yet.

Pueblo Bonito Replicas by Jonathan Walpole

Several working replicas of two of the Pueblo Bonito flutes were crafted by Jonathan Walpole in early 2012 ([Walpole 2012]).

Pueblo Bonito Flute working replicas crafted by Jonathan Walpole Pueblo Bonito Flute working replicas crafted by Jonathan Walpole

Pueblo Bonito Flute working replicas crafted by Jonathan Walpole Larger image Larger image

In a personal communication on February 2, 2012, Jonathan describes his work and makes some conjectures about the significance of the tuning of these flutes:

I have made working replicas of two of the flutes found at Pueblo Bonito — specifically H-4559 and H-4560 which were two of the complete specimens. Just looking at the pictures of these flutes makes it clear that they will not sound anything like the contemporary flutes we are used to hearing. First, their bores have a very high sound chamber aspect ratio. Second, they have a flared foot. And third, all the tone holes are in the upper half of the flute. This latter point alone seems to imply that all the notes will be at least an octave higher than the flute's bell note [fundamental note]. In fact, all these features seem to suggest that these flutes were optimized towards the higher harmonics, and not designed to play the soulful low tones we are used to hearing.
 
The replicas of the two different flutes, have a very different and I think very interesting sound. They also had some very intriguing things in common:
 
1. They were both high pitched flutes with a scale that was mostly in the second octave, and extended into the third.
 
2. One flute was a perfect fourth higher than the other (I wonder if they were made to be played together).
 
3. Despite having only four tone holes the smaller flute played a complete harmonic major scale. This seemed remarkable to me.
 
4. Despite having only four tone holes, the larger flute played a complete inverse harmonic minor scale. This also seemed remarkable to me.
 
5. After some study I discovered that the intervals in a harmonic major scale are actually the same as those in an inverse harmonic minor scale. Its just that the two scales start at different points. The fact that these two flutes share this characteristic seems very remarkable to me — and surely can not be a mere coincidence.
 
Although there are a lot of different variables that influence the outcome, and even though the replicas seem sensitive to small changes (I built a dozen or so and varied a lot of parameters), I can't help thinking that the probability of achieving the last three points by pure chance is infinitessimally small. It seems highly likely that there is something about the design of these flutes that makes this kind of outcome possible.

However, some caution is needed, since the internal bore shape of the sound chamber of these flutes is not uniform. The measurements of the instrument note various bore diameters at different points, so the bore may be tapered or irregular. Jonathan addressed this in a personal communication on Feburary 13, 2012:

I did some experiments where I ovalized the tubing, by squashing it, more at the blowing end and letting it gradually transform to a completely round shape lower down. This way the cross sectional area of the tube is reduced where its squashed/ovalized and it should, at least in theory, behave (to some approximation) like a narrower tube. However, I could not get this to make much difference to the tuning, so in the end I went with cylindrical tubing that was flared at the bottom end via heating and stretching over a cone shape. The lack of impact of the ovalizing on the tuning is not too surprising, since what really makes more difference are restrictions in the bore, or variations in the bore profile, not just uniform tapers or flares. To my knowledge nobody has taken an actual bore profile of these flutes, so there is no way to know whether the bore was uniformly flared/tapered or not. My replicas assume a uniform bore.

Overtones

Because of the long aspect ratio of the sound chamber, these flutes naturally lend themselves to playing in the upper registers. However, these flutes do not seem to behave in the same way as overtone flutes from other cultures. I believe that the acoustics of these instruments deserve further exploration.

From a personal communication on Feburary 13, 2012 (with editorial changes to use finger diagram images rather than SNAFT):

The flute will not sound any note below B5 with Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed closed fingering, and one does not have to do anything with embouchure or blowing angle to get it to play B5. For example, with no change in embouchure, changing fingering from Yuma four hole finger diagram open open closed open to Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed closed causes it to jump up in pitch from A5 to B5. The same is true when going from Yuma four hole finger diagram open open closed open to Yuma four hole finger diagram open open closed closed. Simply closing the bottom hole cause the flute to flip up a harmonic. This characteristic seems to be a defining feature of these flutes, in fact, which is why I mentioned elsewhere that they seem to function in a quite different way to flutes with larger tone holes lower on the tube, in which opening and closing holes just adjusts the tube length. Here, I think it is more concerned with turning on or off certain harmonics.  This is what makes it hard to describe its playing performance in terms of registers — its not really clear where one register ends and another begins.

With Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed open open fingering there are only two notes the flute will play: E5 and E6. The placement of the lower open tone holes seems to be such that it turns off certain harmonics.

Also, I'm not really sure how relevant the lowest note of the flute is. When blown obliquely, which is how I suspect these flutes were really played, its very difficult to sound. In this sense it reminds me of an arab ney, in which they tend to ignore the bottom register when describing the scale, because its hardly ever played and it has unusual fingering.

Pitches and Recordings

Here are the measured pitches of the straight-bore working replicas, from [Walpole 2012]. Note that Jonathan takes the root of the scale to be a rather unusual location compared to other Native American flutes. However, moving the root of the scale to a location in the upper registers of the flute is common practice for flutes with high sound chamber aspect ratios, such as the fujara and the tabor pipe:

Walpole Replica of
Pueblo Bonito H-4559
(see caveat regarding tunings)
Fingering Note Interval
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open closed open G#6 root + octave + major third
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed open open E6 root + octave
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed Eb6 root + major seventh
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed open C6 root + minor sixth
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed closed B5 root + perfect fifth
Yuma four hole finger diagram open open closed open A5 root + perfect fourth
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed open open G#5 root + major third
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open open open F#5 root + major second
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed open open E5 root
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed Eb5 root - minor second
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed open Eb5 (Bb4 is faint) root - minor second
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed Eb4 root - (octave + minor second)

Here is Jonathan's recording on H-4559:

Audio Player disabled - visit Troubleshooting.

Copyright ©2012 Jonathan Walpole. All Rights Reserved.

Walpole Replica of
Pueblo Bonito H-4560
(see caveat regarding tunings)
Fingering Note Interval
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open closed closed F6 root + octave + perfect fifth
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open open closed Eb6 root + octave + perfect fourth
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed D6 root + octave + major third
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed open open B5 root + octave + minor second
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed closed Bb5 root + octave
Yuma four hole finger diagram open open closed open G#5 root + minor seventh
Yuma four hole finger diagram open closed closed closed G5 root + major sixth
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed F5 root + perfect fifth
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open open open Eb5 root + perfect fourth
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed open closed open D5 root + major third
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed open open B4 root + minor second
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed open Bb4 root
Yuma four hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed Bb3 root - octave

Here is Jonathan's recording on H-4560:

Audio Player disabled - visit Troubleshooting.

Copyright ©2012 Jonathan Walpole. All Rights Reserved.

 
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