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.



I'm waiting for CrApple to file a lawsuit in Federal Court over this. Surely CrApple will find a way to say that device has infringed upon its precious iCordphones patents and it must be destroyed!

Don't ya think it's time the "National Museum of the American Indian in Maryland, USA" opened up it's vaults and returned these artifacts to the people they were stolen from? This artifact belongs in Peru, not the US, in some 'collection'.

angieblackmon's picture

That’s amazing and the best news I’ve heard in a while! People back then, they were smart...they knew stuff we are only beginning to learn! 


love, light and blessings


Only beginning to learn??? I knew about this over 50 years ago when I was a kid. Seems strange they cannot create a new one out of 2 gourds, some membrane and string. I doubt it would work very well with 75 feet of line though.

It's unclear in this article if the device actually works. Has anyone made a model and tested it? Do those membranes actually send a sound down the twine? If so I've got a long distance call I need to make to Macchu Picchu right now. And get Stonehenge on the line for me.


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