Chan Chan, Peru (Wikimedia Commons). Inset: The enigmatic ancient communication device.

1,200-year-old telephone, amazing invention of the ancient Chimu civilization

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The Chimu were the people of the Kingdom of Chimor, and their beautiful capital city was Chan Chan (translated as Sun Sun ), a sprawling mud brick complex —the largest such adobe in the world— and it was the largest city in Pre-Columbian South America. Chan Chan was almost 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles), and with 100,000 residents during its height around 1200 AD. The entire city was made from shaped and sun-dried mud, and was elaborately decorated with sculptures, reliefs and wall carvings on almost every surface.

The amazing constructions of the Chimu capital city, Chan Chan.

The amazing constructions of the Chimu capital city, Chan Chan.  (Carlos Adampol Galindo, Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0)

Chimu culture arose about 900 AD, but was eventually conquered by the Inca around 1470 AD.

The Chimu telephone, and many other amazing ancient technologies, remind us that ancient cultures were capable of marvelous inventions, ideas, and creations long before our ‘sophisticated’ modern societies dreamed them up (sometimes for a second time).
Featured image: Chan Chan, Peru ( Wikimedia Commons ). Inset: The enigmatic ancient communication device. Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian 

By Liz Leafloor     


Gascoigne, Bamber. “History of Communication: Better than shouting” HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing. [Online] Available here.

Baldwin, Neil. 2013. “There’s a 1,200-year-old Phone in the Smithsonian Collections”. Smithsonian. [Online] Available here.

Dhwty, 2014. “Chan Chan – The Largest Mud-Brick City in the World”. Ancient Origins [Online] Available here.

Smithsonian Institution. 2014. “Meeting of the Board of Regents” PDF [Online] Available here.



The tin can idea and string works. When I had to make a custom HF aentenna I had the option to use slashwire, the most profficient person I have ever seen make an HF aentenna used copper wire.

Troy Mobley

"may have dug" - That's some pretty weakass provenance. Not buying this one.

Back in the 30's it was more about greed and being a shadowy person, he probably didnt report the find as he wanted to just sell it for the dough, more than being popular. If he didnt find it, he probably had control where it would go from there. But all this dont mean it cant be real.

75 feet of cotton twine seems most likely to absorb the slight vibration on the membranes rather than transmitting them.

I am very interested in pre/historical stories of South American literature, [email protected]


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