Music of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient South American Cultures

eldoradocoverBWMusic of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient South American Cultures (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002) is available in hardcover or paperback from the publisher or

In the first comprehensive synthesis of Andean musical instruments, Dale Olsen breathes life and humanity into the music making of pre-Hispanic cultures in the northern and central Andes. He assesses three decades’ worth of anthropological findings from diverse collections, museums, tombs, and temples.

Although the instruments, ranging from the ceramic flutes of the Sinu and Tairona and the panpipes of the Paracas and Nasca to the Moche’s rattles, drums, and conch shell trumpets are analyzed in great detail, Olsen’s is original among studies of pre-Columbian music in that it takes an interpretive rather than a purely descriptive approach. What did music mean in the lives of these pre-Columbians? Part musical quest, part adventure of the mind, he considers not only why and when the instruments were played, but exactly how.

Enhancing the text are fascinating illustrations of more than 80 archaeological musical instruments and ancient artifacts, many never before reproduced in books available in the United States. An unpublished CD of 52 audio examples accompanies Olsen’s analyses, photographs, and other data within the book; these are available for listening below as wma files.

“An adventurous quest to understand the flutes of the ancient Americans of the Andes. In learning how the instruments may have been played, we are taken on a journey through contemporary and age-old rituals, to discover an aesthetic part of a culture known more for its monuments and its precipitous fall to the Spanish.” –Donald R. Hill, State University of New York, Oneonta
“A fascinating exploration . . . both stimulating and provocative . . . adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of the pre-Hispanic Andes.” –Richard L. Burger, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University

Audio Files on line

(click the above link to open a University of Florida PDF file of the 52 Audio Examples, numbered from Track 1 through 52, that correspond to the book Music of El Dorado, pp. xvii-xx).