Sound - The Lost Secret of the Ancient Monument Builders
According to Wiki, Archaeoacoustics is (WAS):
"�the discipline that explores acoustic phenomena encoded in ancient artefacts. For instance, theoretically a pot or vase could be "read" like a gramophone record or phonograph cylinder for messages from the past."
Okay everyone, before I lose your attention completely, let me say that this idea was essentially proved to be false. It is theoretically possible for objects (like clay pots) to record ambient noise present when they were constructed, however it seems making specific intentional recordings like voices isn�t. Anyhow the practical problems faced when trying to record and recover the �message� are far too great.
Interestingly the Wiki definition of this branch of archaeology hasn�t been updated with the newest version of the term, so it is reasonable to assume it�s a fairly new field and definitely worthy of presentation to my fellow members!! I think it�s fitting for ATS to be kept abreast of such topics, so I will try.
Today the term is used to describe the possible intentional use of acoustics in an archaeological context, especially when referring to how the Ancients incorporated sound into the design and construction of prehistoric buildings and monuments.
Preliminary studies have shown that manmade prehistoric chambers still resonate at a sound wave frequency which appears to shift brain activity in the prefrontal cortex; just as the rooms would have done when they were created. This shifting is believed to emphasize a part of the brain that deals with creativity, mood and emotional processing.
How cool is that? In this thread I�d like to present a few example of this, explain a little how it works (or at least present the theories that try to explain the physics and ceremonial importance to the Ancient builders) and provide some decent images and links.
It�s becoming increasingly evident that our ancestors were far more knowledgeable than we initially believed. Neolithic and Bronze Age structures, once simply admired for their size and grandeur were believed to be �merely� feats of ancient engineering, constructed for ceremonial and defence purposes. Only in the last few years have archaeologists explored the role of acoustics and the use of sound in rituals. Revealing how this consideration possibly governed the construction of some of the world�s most famous ancient monuments.
In fact, it�s highly likely that early modern man was well on the way to developing a keen interest into the acoustics of enclosed spaces many millennia before he constructed anything at all out of stone.
An appreciation of acoustic effects can be traced all the way back to our Palaeolithic ancestors. According to Igor Reznikoff of Nanterre University, Paris, they may have used sound to navigate around cave networks. Different echoes and resonances would warn of deep holes in the cave floor, for instance, so by making noises people could find their way in the dark, perhaps to gather together far from marauding tribes or predatory animals. Similar effects might even have scared off would-be attackers: make a low hum in the right recess and the growl of a bison might resound down a whole gallery.
As I stated I hope to bring you several examples of the use of sound by Ancient civilisations. Here is a taste of what is to come; one of the most intriguing monuments in terms of Archaeoacoustics, Chav�n de Hu�ntar, in the Peruvian Andes (I�ll go into this amazing place further on in the thread)
Was sound the secret weapon of the Andean elites?
FIRST they make you drink the juice of the San Pedro cactus. Then they lead you towards the darkness. The corridors are cold and full of twists and turns that make your head spin. Occasional shafts of bright light channelled from the world above destroy any chance that your eyes might adjust to the darkness. The cactus hallucinogen is kicking in, and the little you can make out in the murk - the carvings of leering cat faces, the statues and elaborate paintings - is horribly distorted. You go weak at the knees, but the hands at your shoulders push you relentlessly onwards, into the heart of the temple. Then just when you think you cannot take any more, as you begin to fear being abandoned to wander this labyrinth forever, your head is filled with a terrifying, unearthly noise that you cannot block out. It comes from nowhere and everywhere, enveloping you. It seems to come from the gods themselves, and disgruntled gods at that. By now utterly convinced of the power of the priests, you will do anything they say to make it stop.
What a terrifying experience that must have been. As I stated previously, the role of sound in Ancient ritual and the importance of acoustics to our Ancient ancestors have only recently been considered by archaeologists. I hope you continue to read through the rest of the thread; I assure you it will be interesting!
ECHOES OF PREHISTORY
While researching this topic I came across so many examples that I had to discard several simply to keep the thread size down. By way of an introduction to archaeoacoustics, I feel I need to start with a few basic examples. These aren�t necessarily �basic� with regards to construction, however in terms of the acoustics they are of the less spectacular variety. Having said that, take a moment to consider that some of these monuments are thousands of years old. If I asked you to build a mound or stone structure today (with ancient tools) incorporating acoustic properties would you be able to? So while these examples may be simple, their significance cannot be overlooked.
I feel it necessary here to introduce an example of ancient sound making. It�s reasonable to assume that our prehistoric ancestors used percussion �instruments� (primitive drums or merely sticks to beat together for example), but the use of bullroarers through prehistory counts as excellent archaeoacoustical (not sure that�s even a word!!) evidence.
The bullroarer is one of the earliest-known devices for making sound, dating back at least 17,000 years to the Palaeolithic period. Bullroarers are found the world over and seem to have been invented independently by many different cultures. They often have great ritual or religious significance and are strongly connected with male initiation rituals. In some societies bullroarers are taboo to women, who are not allowed to see or hear them.
Bullroarers have been found in most parts of the world. They have been in constant use through prehistory up to the present day (Africa and Australia).
To sound a Bullroarer it is swung lasso style which causes it to spin and make a 'humming type' sound. It is called by several different names including 'Burliwarni', 'Ngurrarngay', and 'Muypak'. They were used to display sacred symbols and sounded to warn the uninitiated that they were being shown. They were also used to send animals into ambush, and to alert one tribe of another�s presence, and in rainmaking ceremonies.
While relatively easy to make, these objects highlight the importance of sound to the Ancients. It is a widely held view that the haunting sound of the bullroarer was usually associated with rituals and revered by those civilisations that used them.
Avebury Wiltshire, UK, circa 3000BC
Avebury Stone Circle
Acoustic research conducted here by John Crewdson has shown that sounds generated within the henge are contained by the earthen bank, and could not have been clearly heard from outside. Likewise, the interior would have been artificially quieter than the open landscape beyond, as sounds from the wider world are also blocked and filtered by the bank.
This sets up a clear distinction between the experiences of people. Anyone outside would have had very little knowledge of events within as they could neither clearly see or hear events in the interior.
It has also been suggested that some of Avebury�s massive standing stones were placed in specific areas, deliberately altering the acoustics within the henge. One can only imagine what sound effects were evident 5,000 years ago when this place was originally in use, there have been suggestions that the ground was cut back to the natural chalk, indeed the henge would surely have been. When inside the inner circle the echoes and resulting effects of this would have been quite astounding.
Within Avebury's earthwork, there are features that direct and control sound. The three large monoliths of the Cove act to screen the movement of sound in some directions, while allowing it to project outwards through its open side. Perhaps this feature acted rather like a stage in a theatre, enabling voices or other sounds to be more audible from certain directions.
It is obviously a possibility that the acoustic properties of Avebury came about entirely by accident. That is until you consider that the huge monoliths in the circle are actually smooth on one side, and that side is the one that faces inwards.
These echoes may well be just an accidental effect, but there is reason to suspect otherwise. William Stukeley, as early as 1720, noted that the stones of the Avebury circle were arranged with their smoothest sides facing the inside - as were the stones of the two inner circles.
Previous studies of circular features have shown a remarkable consistency between many sites: One of the most interesting aspects of circular spaces is the way in which echoes change dramatically in relation to the locations of the listener and the sound source. If both are close to the centre, sounds will be reflected simultaneously from all sides of the circle and return as a coherent echo that surrounds the listener. Away from the centre, echoes become indistinct as sounds are no longer reflected from all sides of the circle at the same time. This would have created an acoustic emphasis at the centres of these circles.
I think the evidence for the intentional manipulation of sound at Avebury is quite strong. I was going to include Stone Henge at this point, however on further research I found that the Henge itself had been subject to a fair amount of disturbance so I decided to leave it out.
Almost all of the stones at Stonehenge have been artificially shaped. It was noted during the research that the inner surfaces of many stones were dressed to be either flat or concave. This is not visually striking, but could improve the ability of these stones to reflect sound. In contrast, the outward facing surfaces of the same stones are irregular or even convex. The enormous effort invested in dressing sarsens and bluestones into these subtle and barely visible shapes is difficult to explain, but it might suggest that the builders of the monument knew how to emphasise the movement of sound.
For a detailed look at an acoustical investigation, please go to:
AVEBURY ECHOES: Acoustical effects of the Avebury Henge, Wiltshire
Maeshowe Mainland, Orkney, Scotland, circa 3,000BC
Maeshowe is considered to be one of the finest architectural achievements of prehistoric Europe. The mound, 35m in diameter and 7m high, consists mostly of packed stones and clay, with an inner layer of stones around the chamber itself. This chambered cairn was constructed with great care, the large dressed slabs being carefully set together and finished. The chamber is 4.5m square and about the same in height. A tapered orthostat faces each corner buttress giving an impression of space and strength. The whole impression is of majesty and the idea of a "Neolithic cathedral" comes to mind.
The amazing Maeshowe mound
Because of the chamber's acoustic properties, a drummer or chanter within the tomb could appear to be surrounded by silence, while the sounds they created were emphasised at significant parts of the chamber. This effect - zones of extreme high and low sound - is due to the interaction of standing sound waves in the prehistoric structure. The loudest areas, it was found, seemed to concentrate around the tomb's side chambers, perhaps giving the impression of otherworldy sound coming from the realm of the dead.
Notable acoustical effects at Maeshowe
One of these is a phenomenon known as "standing waves." These result from the combination of two sound waves of equal frequency and intensity travelling in opposite directions, which can produce zones of low or high intensity as the waves interact, either cancelling each other out or combining to enhance the sound.
It is hard to say whether Maeshowe was intentionally designed to exhibit this phenomenon. However it�s extremely interesting to note the unusual design of the mound, drawing your attention to the side chambers that are ideal for the production of standing waves.
The design of the Maeshowe mound (a sealed chamber with a long neck) meant that it also displayed an effect called Helmholtz resonance. Another remarkable phenomenon which can be created inside passage graves is known as "Helmholtz Resonance" - the sound created when you blow across the neck of a glass bottle. Passage graves and bottles share the same basic architecture: a chamber connected to the outside world by a long, narrow neck. To create the effect, people would have had to create a sound within the chamber at precisely the right pitch, as determined by the relative proportions of the chamber and passageway at each site. The larger the chamber, the lower the pitch needed to create the resonance effect.
This phenomenon is also known to produce infrasound, a possible explanation for human�s experiencing uncomfortable feelings of awe and uneasiness, sometimes interpreted as being supernatural in origin.
Many societies communicate with ancestors or spirit worlds through altered states of consciousness. Altered states can be achieved in many different ways, and often involve sound. At Maeshowe it is possible that people inside inadvertently generated infrasonic sounds that could exert a physiological or psychological influence upon. This results from the phenomenon of Helmholtz Resonance.
We�ll never know if this was intentional on the part of the builders of Maeshowe, I�d like to believe it was. But what is without question is the effect this would have had on visitors to the mound and on those participating in ceremonies or rituals within its recesses.
Sound scientist, Prof. Daniel Talma of the University of Malta explains: �At certain frequencies you have standing waves that emphasize each and other waves that de-emphasize each other. The idea that it was used thousands of years ago to create a certain trance � that�s what fascinates me.�
More on this later...
ACCOUSTIC WONDERS OF THE AMERICAS
Chirped Echo from the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza (Yucat�n Peninsula, Mexico, circa AD 600 - AD 1,000)
Any tourist visiting Chichen Itza has no doubt witnessed the "Clap Echo" of the impressive Pyramid of Kukulkan.
A physical explanation for the chirped echo is proposed: The staircase constitutes an acoustical diffraction grating. Two forms of analytical data are offered in support of this explanation. First, a mathematical simulation of the chirp fundamental frequency vs time is calculated. Then a sonogram of the recorded echo is shown to be in reasonable agreement with these calculations.
Moving to archaeological issues, it is considered whether the echo was intended by its Mayan builders; is merely an artifact of reconstruction; or simply an ancient acoustical design defect. We speculate that the echo is intentional. That the steps were designed and constructed to echo the voice of the Mayan sacred bird, the resplendent quetzal (pharomachrus mocinno), viewed by ancient Maya as the "messenger of the gods.
Of course, as with Avebury and other monuments, it's possible that this was merely an accident, an unintentional quirk of design. However is it too far fetched to propose that a society which possessed the knowledge to incorporate the shadow Serpent of Kukulcan into it's architecture, really not have a grasp of such acoustics?
Feathered Serpent Shadow Visible on the Equinoxes
Ancient stone masons built and aligned this stone pyramid centuries ago to project the sun's rays into a diamond-back rattlesnake of light and shadow.
On the morning and evenings of Equinox March 20, 21 and September 21, 22 thousands flock to Chichen Itza to view the same dramatic display.
In the spring, the sight is clearly visible in the early evening from mid to late February, and through mid-April. In the fall the appearance is visible from mid August through mid October.
AUDIO RECORDING OF THE CLAP AND ECHO
While similar echoes are found in other large ancients staircases, it is the religious importance the Maya would have given it that makes this example stand out:
The Quetzal as the "Spirit of the Maya" and the Spirit of Kukulkan
Archaeological proposals are made to justify design intent by arguing the central importance of quetzal mythology to both ancient and modern Maya. The quetzal, is asserted to represent the "spirit of the Maya". It is shown that the Temple's very name is connected with the quetzal The pyramid's Mayan name is "Temple of Kukulkan" The prefix K'uk has roots in the Mayan name for the quetzal. Also, the glyph of Kukulkan is represented in human form with a huge quetzal behind him, hovering like a spirit. There is much evidence that the Maya made use of quetzal feathers in their ceremonies at Chichen Itza and elsewhere. It is argued that for ancient man, echoes were voices from a spirit world. It seems appropriate that the Temple of Kukulkan should echo with the spirit voice of the quetzal.
Another well known feature of the Chichen Itza complex, the Great Ball Court also displays numerous acoustical effects.
Words softly whispered at one end of the great ball court (measuring 545 feet long by 225 feet wide) are clearly audible all the way at the other end and a single clap or shout sounded in the center of the ball court will produce nine distinct echoes.
Accidental? I don't believe so. I will use my next example as an argument for this. This pre-dates the Mayan Civilisation and demonstrates a very deep understanding of sound and it's usefulness in ritual.
Chav�n de Hu�ntar, the best example of Ancient Acoustics? circa 900BC
Chav�n de Hu�ntar
Chav�n de Hu�ntar is an archaeological site containing ruins and artifacts originally constructed by the Chav�n, a pre-Inca culture, around 900 BC. The site is located 250 kilometers (160 mi) north of Lima, Peru, at an elevation of 3,200 meters
The importance of site acoustics is suggested by distinctive architectural features,
notably an extensive network of underground galleries used in part for ritual purposes. The labyrinthine galleries are stone-walled and arranged in a series of small rectangular alcoves off narrow corridors.
If you want to read up further on this amazing site, please visit the Wiki page above. I feel this thread is probably getting too large so I�ll redirect you there and concentrate on the acoustics properties of this monument to the ancients!!
Chav�n de Hu�ntar was the ceremonial and religious centre for the Chavin.
In the underground chambers adjacent to the circular courtyard, called Galleries offerings have been found hundreds of pottery decorated to serve food and beverages, catering and exotic fish and mussels from the coast, as well as llamas and guinea pigs or guinea pigs. They suggest holding ceremonial banquet in those areas of the temple. We also found fragments of burned human bones that have led to postulate the possibility of ritual cannibalism.
There is no doubt that acoustics were of great importance in this site, at the very least it was used in Chav�n ceremonies and the more outlandish theories suggest Chav�n de Hu�ntar was actually one giant musical instrument (not sure about that one but here�s a dubious LINK anyway!!)
Aerial View of the Complex
A Team form Stanford University carried out thorough investigation of the acoustical properties of three of the most complex and complete labyrinths in the site.
A map showing the tunnels can be found HERE. (It�s too big to post!!)
I don�t wish to just copy & paste three paragraphs of their hard work, so please go to their report which can be found in PDF form HERE.
They concluded that:
Preliminary acoustic measurements of three galleries at Chav�n de Hu�ntar indicate short reverberation times. Early reflections are energetic, become quickly dense, and are widely distributed in arrival direction; this predominantly noncoherent energy density results in envelopment and vague localization cues, despite the short reverberation times. Such an auditory space is unusual in the natural world, and may augment the positional disorientation induced by the labyrinthine layout.
So perhaps the article I quoted in my introduction was right. Whether by design or luck, the tunnels and labyrinths of the complex create just the right acoustical environment that would be terrifying for any disorientated soul led into its depths.
It seems obvious to me that these tunnels are quite unique and were specifically constructed to create such effects, I contend that the Chavin intended for this to be the case and employed their knowledge of sound and acoustics in intentionally building the various labyrinths.
Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni
Malta, circa 3,000BC
Images above and below showing the vast halls of the Hypogeum
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
The Hypogeum of Paola, Malta, literally meaning "underground" in Greek, is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni phase in Maltese prehistory. Thought to be originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times. It is the only prehistoric underground temple in the world.
Please click on the link above for more information on this amazing place, otherwise lets get onto the acoustic properties of this site!
It�s believed that the builders were trying to recreate the acoustic effects found in some of the natural caves found on the Island. Caves such as Għar Dalam were occupied as far back as the Neolithic Period (5,000BC), and the initial stages of Hal Saflieni were indeed believed to have been natural caves. As the ceremonial needs increased, the tunnels were extended to cover the three levels that have been excavated today.
The Oracle Chamber
"There is a small niche in what we call 'The Oracle Chamber', and if someone with a deep voice speaks inside, the voice echoes all over the hypogeum. The resonance in the ancient temple is something exceptional. You can hear the voice rumbling all over."
SIDE NOTE: Strangely, during my research I also came across another �Oracle Chamber�, exhibiting precisely the same acoustical properties! This one can be found near Salem NH.
The Oracle Chamber
WHY? THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOUND IN ANCIENT RITUAL
As you can see ATS, a good case for the use of Acoustics by the Ancients can be made. However the question WHY is a lot harder to answer.
I believe in many cases the answer is control, the ability to address devotees as a deity, with a booming, all encompassing voice cannot be discounted as an explanation. I believe in the idea that the knowledge gained was passed down from a time when we lived in naturally occurring caves. It makes sense that when man finally moved into stone structures, any rituals involving sound would want to be carried on and the effects replicated.
Here is another theory that doesn�t exclude the ideas above, but may go hand in hand with them:
Ancient Temple Architects May Have Been Chasing a Buzz From Sound Waves
Emerging archaeology in a new study highlighted by the Old Temples Study Foundation suggests that sound and a desire to harness its effects may have been equally important as vision in the design of humankind�s earliest ancient temples and monumental buildings
They go on to say:
In subsequent OTSF testing, stone rooms in ancient temples in Malta were found to match the same pattern of resonance, registering at the frequency of 110 or 111 hz. This turns out to be a significant level for the human brain. Whether it was deliberate or not, the people who spent time in such an environment were exposing themselves to vibrations that impacted their minds.
Findings indicated that at 110 hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shifted, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language center and a temporary switching from left to right-sided dominance related to emotional processing. People regularly exposed to resonant sound in the frequency of 110 or 111 hz would have been "turning on" an area of the brain that bio-behavioural scientists believe relates to mood, empathy and social behaviour.
I�ve heard wackier ideas on ATS my friends. I�m not saying they knew why they felt closer to their deities within their monuments, but maybe they didn�t have to! In most of the cases I provided, the sound effect usually comes about with low, rhythmic noise, this gives us a tantalising glimpse of how Ancient rituals must have been conducted.
I hope that one day it can be definitively shown that not only were our Ancient Ancestors aware of the sound properties of their monuments but intentionally designed them with acoustics in mind.
I hope you enjoyed this thread, apologies if it was too long, as I said at the beginning, you have no idea how many examples I didn�t include!!
We have so much to (re)learn from our Ancient Ancestors, or at the very least we should appreciate how amazingly brilliant they were!
All the best ATS, Kiwi!
Acoustical Society of America
136th Meeting Lay Language Papers
Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni Wiki
Sacred Sound Tools - Bullroarer
Chav�n de Hu�ntar Archaeological Acoustics Project
- pipe dream or possibility?
ARCHAO NEWS - stonepages
Aaron Watson Archaeology Research
Orkneyjar - Acoustics in Maeshowe
On the Acoustics of the Underground Galleries of
Ancient Chav�ın de Hu�antar, Peru
Ancient Temple Architects May Have Been Chasing a Buzz From Sound Waves
Pictures & vids at http://www.niburu.nl/index.php?articleID=22906
This post has been edited by TRANCOSO on Mar 22 2010, 07:54 PM