Was Stonehenege built for sound effects?

17 02 2012

The origins of Stonehenge have long baffled historians – was it intended as a monument for the dead, a celestial observatory, a place or healing?

The widely accepted theory is that the arrangement of pillars at Stonehenge is related to the positioning of the Sun at the equinoxes Photo: ALAMY

The widely accepted theory is that the arrangement of pillars at Stonehenge is related to the positioning of the Sun at the equinoxes Photo: ALAMY

But now a US researcher has come up with an intriguing new theory, claiming that the ancient stones were actually arranged to create a special sound effect.

Steven Waller said the ordering of stones at the rock monument in Wiltshire could be an attempt to recreate a sound illusion known as an “interference pattern” during prehistoric pipe-playing rituals.

The effect happens when two sounds clash, and results in some people hearing a louder noise and some a softer noise, depending on where they stand in relation to the source.

People taking part in a ritual dance around a pair of pipers would have heard the music unexpectedly grow quieter as they moved past certain spots due to this natural phenomenon, Mr Waller said.

This would have created the illusion that the sound was intermittently being muffled by invisible obstacles as the dancers circled the pipers, he said.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Vancouver on Thursday, Mr Waller, an independent California-based researcher, said it could be a desire to recreate this natural phenomenon that provided the “blueprint” for the stone circle.

Although it remains a puzzle why our ancestors built Stonehenge, the theory contradicts the most widely accepted assertion that the arrangement of the pillars is related to the positioning of the Sun at the equinoxes.

When sound waves clash they either reinforce each other, making the noise louder, or cancel each other out, depending on the exact point at which the waves meet.

If two sound sources are positioned near one another, they will sound noticeably louder from some angles but quieter from others.

Mr Waller said: “Ancient people had myths about echos being spirits in rock. If they heard interference patterns, that would have been a mysterious thing they would have been unable to explain.

“I think they were experiencing this illusion, thinking it was magic pillars, and then constructed the actual structure.”

Mr Waller tested his theory by blindfolding three school pupils and moving them in a circle around a pair of pipes each playing the same note.

When asked to draw the field they had been in, most students sketched a series of pillars which they imagined had been responsible for blocking the sound at certain points, and which resembled the layout of Stonehenge.

Three blindfolded University of California students who took part in a similar test also believed that obstacles had been responsible for blocking the sound.

Mr Waller said: “It is unlikely this relationship is merely coincidental, because a number of megaliths are named ‘Pipers Stones’.

“There is a legend that two magic pipers led maidens into a field and enticed them to dance to music in a circle. And the pipers all turned to stone.”

Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology and a leading expert on Stonehenge, said researchers had established that the stone circle was built over several centuries and “Wasn’t thought up overnight”.

He said: “There is no question it’s main axis is aligned along the mid-summer sunrise and mid-winter sunset and there is widespread agreement that it was used for cremation burials.

“However, I don’t think you’ll find many archaeologists who know about Stonehenge giving this particular acoustic theory a lot of time.”

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/architecture/9086555/Was-Stonehenege-built-for-sound-effects.html

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Stonehenge was based on a ‘magical’ auditory illusion, says scientist

17 02 2012

The layout of Stonehenge matches the spacing of loud and quiet sounds created by acoustic interference, new theory claims

Two flutes playing the same continuous note set up a pattern of interference that apparently echoes the layout of Stonehenge. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/Getty

Two flutes playing the same continuous note set up a pattern of interference that apparently echoes the layout of Stonehenge. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/Getty

The Neolithic builders of Stonehenge were inspired by “auditory illusions” when they drew up blueprints for the ancient monument, a researcher claims.

The radical proposal follows a series of experiments by US scientistSteven Waller, who claims the positions of the standing stones match patterns in sound waves created by a pair of musical instruments.

Waller, an independent researcher in California, said the layout of the stones corresponded to the regular spacing of loud and quiet sounds created by acoustic interference when two instruments played the same note continuously.

In Neolithic times, the nature of sound waves – and their ability to reinforce and cancel each other out – would have been mysterious enough to verge on the magical, Waller said. Quiet patches created by acoustic interference could have led to the “auditory illusion” that invisible objects stood between a listener and the instruments being played, he added.

To investigate whether instruments could create such auditory illusions, Waller rigged two flutes to an air pump so they played the same note continuously. When he walked around them in a circle, the volume rose, fell and rose again as the sound waves interfered with each other. “What I found unexpected was how I experienced those regions of quiet. It felt like I was being sheltered from the sound. As if something was protecting me. It gave me a feeling of peace and quiet,” he said.

To follow up, Waller recruited volunteers, blindfolded them, and led them in a circle around the instruments. He then asked participants to sketch out the shape of any obstructions they thought lay between them and the flutes. Some drew circles of pillars, and one volunteer added lintels, a striking feature of the Stonehenge monument.

“If these people in the past were dancing in a circle around two pipers and were experiencing the loud and soft and loud and soft regions that happen when an interference pattern is set up, they would have felt there were these massive objects arranged in a ring. It would have been this completely baffling experience, and anything that was mysterious like that in the past was considered to be magic and supernatural.

“I think that was what motivated them to build the actual structure that matched this virtual impression. It was like a vision that they received from the other world. The design of Stonehenge matches this interference pattern auditory illusion,” said Waller, who described his research at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.

“It’s not a complete structure now but there is a portion of the ring that still has the big megaliths arranged in the circle. If you have a sound source in the middle of Stonehenge, and you walk around the outside of the big stones, what you experience is alternating loud and soft, loud and soft, loud and soft as you alternately pass by the gaps and the stone, the gaps and the stone,” he added.

“So the stones of Stonehenge cast acoustic shadows that mimic an interference pattern.”

Waller argues that his findings are not mere coincidence and says local legend offers some support for his thesis. Some megaliths are known as pipers’ stones, while stories tell of walls of air forming an invisible tower, and two magical pipers that enticed maidens to dance in a circle before they turned to stone.

Stonehenge was built in several stages, with the lintelled stone circle constructed around 2,500 BC. The site was originally a burial ground, but may also have been a place for healing.

In 2009, Rupert Till, a music expert at Huddersfield University, used a full-scale replica of Stonehenge and computer analyses to show that repetitive drum beats and chanting would have resonated loudly between the standing stones.

Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University, said that while sound played an important role in events at Stonehenge, the monument was probably not designed with acoustics in mind.

“The main structure is a replica in stone of what was normally built in wood,” he said. “They used the same techniques. The positioning of the main components is all about the construction of a framework, a building if you like, as the setting for ritual adventures that included the use of the bluestones brought over from Wales.”

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/feb/16/stonehenge-based-magical-auditory-illusion?newsfeed=true

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Merlin at Stonehenge 
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