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Brief History of Wind Chimes: Facts You Didn’t Know

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Wind chimes are incredibly popular the world over.

Used in gardens, porches, and all manner of outdoor spaces, the sounds they make can vary wildly from frustrating to beautiful.

As expected of any device like this, wind chimes have a long history that dates far beyond any modern era of human history.

The earliest wind chimes date back to 3000 BC China where they were initially made of pottery, bone, or shell.

More modern versions, crafted from metal and with specific sounds in mind, made their appearance around 1100 BC. Eventually, they spread to the Dutch and Japan until reaching the rest of the world.

colorful wind chimes

Each time a new group of people or civilization interacted with wind chimes, it seems that a new consideration or material was added to their construction.

Uses changed over time as well, up until the modern understanding of wind chimes. For more information on how wind chimes evolved and changed, continue reading below.

When Was the First Wind Chime Made?

The earliest signs of wind chimes – or, at least, constructions meant to make sound with the wind – date back to 3000 BC in China. These earliest wind chimes were crafted mainly from:

  • Bone
  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Shells
  • Pottery

Most evidence of the earliest wind chimes resides in South East Asia.

Considering that the next advancement of wind chimes also takes place in this region, it is safe to say that this is the birthplace of the practice.

Early wind chimes were unlikely to have specific sounds or even be purposefully pleasant due to a lack of tools and consistency in creation.

Regardless, however, they were most likely like their modern counterparts, making nice and light sounds.

Even modern wind chimes are still crafted from a number of the earliest materials, especially in regions where shells, bamboo, and wood are common.

It is believed that farms would hang dried bamboo on their rice fields to ward off birds.

The sound the bamboo made with the wind would scare them away.

When Modern Sounds Started Becoming Common

Modern wind chime sounds only started becoming common after some key advancements in technology.

When you think of the sound of wind chimes, somewhat melodic and musical tunes may come to mind.

To achieve these types of resonances, tubular bells are required – an advancement that did not appear until 1100 BC. By then, the Chinese could cast bells out of pottery.

The earliest modern wind chimes appeared in 1100 BC under the name of a fengling. Specifically, fenglings were the bells cast out of metal and, occasionally, pottery. With newfound control over the size and thickness of wind chimes, cast objects started quickly replacing naturally-found options.

However, as has occurred many times throughout the advancement of wind chimes, the older materials do not simply get discarded.

Even now, it is possible to find wind chimes crafted from shells and bamboo. Instead of replacing the process, the advancement of bells was often used to compliment sounds the other materials created. 

Around this same time, Roman wind bells known as tintinnabulum began appearing.

While not exactly wind chimes, they often served similar purposes and could be activated by wind movement. These were crafted from bronze and often featured traditional bells and phallus shapes.

They were believed to bring good fortune and ward off the evil eye. 

What Were Wind Chimes Used For?

The use of wind chimes has evolved significantly over the centuries since their creation. Some of the ideas behind why they were used are purely speculative, while others have recorded histories of how they were used.

Often, changes in what wind chimes were used for occurred as new cultures found them or new materials were added to their creation.

As such, these uses can also serve as a loose timeline of the advancement of wind chimes.

Warding Away Birds

Dating back to the original wind chimes found in South East Asia in 3000 BC, archaeologists believe that wind chimes were used to ward off birds.

Despite the pleasant sounds they make, birds can often get scared away from resting and feeding where wind chimes are, thanks to the production of sound in general. 

Most often, these early chimes were crafted out of bamboo, shells, bone, or wood.

More than likely, the intention was less to make pleasant sounds and more to produce anything with the wind.

Otherwise, birds could come to the fields and feed on rice, reducing the crop.

Religious Protection

Religious protections, especially around the warding off of evil spirits and garnering of peaceful ones, were a prevalent reason for wind chimes to be hung.

This use dates back to at least 1100 BC in China, when tubular bells were created.

Wind chimes throughout Asia were commonly hung in temples and pagodas to make them into a place of protection.

The sound would ward off evil spirits and call good ones to the place of worship.

This became more common as bells became refined and made out of metal, making them more ornate. With this, symbols on wind chimes also became more common, allowing religious identities to be marked on the chime.

Elsewhere in the world, religious protection also became popular. As mentioned earlier, bells in ancient Rome were often used to ward off the “evil eye” and bring about good fortune.

Eventually, with the advent of Christianity, this would evolve to the Roman bell. Placed on a stick, these poles were rung to signify a church’s link with the Pope and lead processions down a church.

When wind chimes eventually came to Japan and the Netherlands in the 2nd century AD, they were also used to ward off danger.

Often, this came in the form of weather protection by warning people of picking up winds. In Japan, it was also believed that wind chimes warned of coming disease, as they were often spread through the air. 

To Showcase Wealth and Prestige

Especially as wind chimes became more ornate and made out of precious materials, they were often used to showcase wealth and power.

Thanks to modern metals like bronze becoming common in wind chime construction, it would have been rare and expensive to have wind chimes made out of anything but organic materials for a long while.

Still, as is commonly seen in modern culture, symbols of wealth spread quickly. Wind chimes used to showcase wealth were used across the world and in all cultures. One such example is the use of glass.

When wind chimes reached the Netherlands, the Dutch introduced glass to their construction. The Dutch were ferocious traders and reached many different parts of the world, including Japan.

When they introduced glass wind chimes there, it was a double hit. Wind chimes were a new construction, but glass had also not been seen.

This led to the enormous popularity of glass and wind chimes throughout the region as an example of wealth. 

In the modern day, wind chimes have become common enough that this use is rare.

That is largely thanks to modern construction techniques that make metal machining easy to do, but wind chimes are still used as beautiful constructs to display comfort.

Recap

Wind chimes first appeared in South East Asia around the year 3000 BC. They were originally created from bone, wood, bamboo, shells, and other organic materials.

Eventually, as bells and metal construction became more common, these materials were supplemented with crafted objects. This occurred around the year 1100 BC.

Wind chimes have seen many uses throughout history, starting with the warding off of birds. Eventually, they became ubiquitous as religious and spiritual objects believed to ward off evil spirits and attract new ones. As materials became rarer, they also entered the realm of symbols of power and status.

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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2 Comments

  1. At least 15 years ago I found very long bamboo on sale at Hobby Lobby. They are about 7 ft tall. They’ve survived two moves, and your fantastic history lesson is just the nudge I needed. We added a pergola this year where it can hang with pride. Thank you SO much. I wish we were backyard neighbors.

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