The Research

Curated by Priscilla Molin a, Archaeology Curator

Research collaborator: Archaeologist Mónica Aguilar

May  2015 – April 18, 2016

What sounds inspired pre-Columbian music? How were the instruments that reproduce them created? Which daily and celebrational activities used music? Is this pre-Hispanic musical heritage still alive in contemporary indigenous communities?

The Metaphor of Sound invites visitors to ask themselves these questions — and many others — as they take a tour of more than 60 archaeological musical instruments dating from 500 BC to 1550 AD. Ocarinas, bell clusters, flutes, whistles, maracas, and rattles from the North and South Pacific and the Central Caribbean region of Costa Rica are among the objects selected for this exhibition.

The research that gave rise to this project was carried out by Priscilla Molina, archaeological curator of the MBCCR, and her colleague, archaeologist Mónica Aguilar. Together, they complemented each other’s knowledge of pre-Hispanic music using dates of codices, chronicles from the Conquest and the first half of the Colonial period, archaeological findings, and current local and international research, as well as the collaboration of other contemporary researchers and musicians, such as Jorge Luis Acevedo, Eduardo Oviedo, Manuel Dávila, Andrés Cervilla, and Joan Villaperros.

Although the study is based on archaeological artifacts, the exhibition did not focus merely on the object description and production process, but also delves into the human beings who conceived, crafted, and used these objects, which gave them a personal and collective meaning. With this in mind, they combined the fields of ethno-musicology, psychology, and anthropology to identify how these as a means of expression in pre-Columbian culture.

The Exhibition

The tour begins by approaching a definition of music in pre-Columbian times — since it was understood differently than it is nowadays. Nevertheless, music was of great importance in social and cultural terms, particularly for the collective, given that it was not only a group of sounds, but a way to characterize the behavior of these civilizations.

With this premise in mind, the visitor is then introduced to these civilizations’ main source of inspiration for sound and music: the environment, thus explaining the concept of The Metaphor of Sound, the way in which sounds made by animals, water, and wind, among others, were symbolically captured in a musical object or the human voice.

The visitor is then introduced to the objects depicting musicians and chanters. These figures, together with artisans, were crucial in instrument production and execution. Ceramic bowls and gold objects show stylized designs of masked musicians with body decorations and headdresses, some holding an instrument in their hands.

This allows the visitor to understand what motivated the creation of these musical instruments, as well as their purpose. The exhibition highlights the participation of musicians, chanters, and dancers in rituals associated with sowing, harvesting, hunting, and fertility, as well as religious rituals — deaths and burials —, those to celebrate war , someone’s rise to power, marital alliances, or communication between indigenous groups and warnings, among others.