Sounds and Dancers

February 2020 – January 2021

A contemplative and sensory experience

The temporary exhibit Sound and Dancers explores the relationship between ritual and sound universes in the pre-Columbian world, through their sound production and creation technologies, as well as through dance as a field of expression of sound in the past. The exhibition seeks to transcend the perception of the archaeological space as silent and static, and allow us to think of the pre-Columbian worlds as places in constant movement, charged with a deep creative sense.

The body and sound world in the pre-Columbian time is experienced throughout the three temporary rooms of the museum. The first one approaches the production of sounds from the perspective of technologies and diversity of forms in archaeological artifacts such as whistle bottles, pututos, rattles, bells, flutes, ocarinas and lithophones; displayed along with their original recordings.

Since the internal mechanisms of the pieces are as fascinating as their external characteristics, the second room allows visitors to appreciate the intimate world of these sound artifacts by the visualization of 3D computerized tomography. The third room of the exhibition is dedicated to pre-Columbian dancers, capable of carrying and producing sound (through ornaments and instruments), and puts them in dialogue with ethnographic objects of celebrations and rituals of contemporary Ecuador. 

The enhancement of Ecuador’s archaeological and sound heritage will allow the visitor to live a contemplative and sensory experience around the sound and corporeality of the past, but in dialogue with our diverse identities in the present. 


Representative pieces
  • Sound in the hands of dancers

    The conservation of instruments elaborated with feathers, leather, cane or wood has been limited due to the biodegradable nature of these materials. However, these objects were widely represented by pre-Columbian societies, as depicted in this Jama-Coaque figure which documents the existence of prowlers and antaras that resemble Andean contemporary instruments.

    Dancer, Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)
  • Bone flute

    In the archaeological record, bone flutes precede formal language. Neanderthals (homo neanderthalensis) began producing bone flutes 40 thousand years ago. These objects bear a direct connection with funeral practices, through rites that transformed human or animal bones into sound-making artifacts. This bone flute, for instance, represents an arm and was elaborated with an ulna, the bone that joins the elbow and the thumb.

    Bone flute, Manteño-Huancavilca (600-1532 AD)
  • Dual-identity artifacts

    In addition to carrying drinks or food, certain artifacts of the everyday world had the ability to produce sound. This was made possible by the addition of whistles or percussion to bottles and vessels. Whistles are usually located inside the figure’s face, with the sound emerging through the mouth. In the case of bird and canine representations, the sounds produced suggest an intention to recreate their singing and howling.

    Whistle bottle, Chorrera (1000 – 100 BC)

    A crucial exhibit for ethnomusicology, for archaeomusicology and I believe too, for people’s sensitivities.

    Juan Mullo, Ethnomusicologist

    A remarkable research project that doesn’t just allow us to understand the diverse functions of these objects, but that also invites us to delve into their manufacturing process.

    Carmen Fernández Salvador, Art Historian
    Watch a pututo’s CT scan

    Inspired by the shape of marine snail shells, pututos were instruments of great resonance. Some of them were able to reproduce very low frequencies due to their chambers’ amplitude, as you can see in this video.

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      Centro Histórico de Quito.

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