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11 January 2009
More on Stonehenge as a 'giant concert venue'

Rupert Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University, West Yorkshire (England), believes the standing stones at Stonehenge had the ideal acoustics to amplify a 'repetitive trance rhythm'. The original Stonehenge probably had a 'very pleasant, almost concert-like acoustic' that our ancestors slowly perfected over many generations
     Because Stonehenge itself is partially collapsed, Dr Till used a computer model to conduct experiments in sound. The most exciting discoveries came when he and colleague Dr Bruno Fazenda visited a full-size concrete replica of Stonehenge, with all the original stones intact, which was built as a war memorial by American road builder Sam Hill at Maryhill in Washington state (USA). Although the replica has not previously gained any attention from archaeologists studying the original site, it was ideal for Dr Till's work.
     He said: "We were able to get some interesting results when we visited the replica by using computer-based acoustic analysis software, a 3D soundfield microphone, a dodecahedronic speaker, and a huge bass speaker from a PA company. By comparing results from paper calculations, computer simulations based on digital models, and results from the concrete Stonehenge copy, we were able to come up with some of these theories about the uses of Stonehenge. We have also been able to reproduce the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago. The most interesting thing is we managed to get the whole space (at Maryhill) to resonate, almost like a wine glass will ring if you run a finger round it. While that was happening a simple drum beat sounded incredibly dramatic. The space had real character; it felt that we had gone somewhere special."
     Dr Till recently spoke to academics at Bristol University about Stonehenge  rituals and a research network is being set up to look closer at Neolithic sites. "Very little is actually known about the way people sang, danced or performed rituals at Stonehenge because these things left no trace in the archaeological record. However, our research shows that there are particular spots in the site that  produce unusual particular acoustic effects, intimating that perhaps a priest  or a shaman may have stood there, leading the ritual. This kind of ritual may also have been for healing, so this acoustic study may  tie the two main competing theories about Stonehenge together."
     "The use of music, drums and those types of instruments is well known from archaeological records going back tens of thousands of years to Paleolithic cave art. People were making simple flutes and drums out of animal and bird longbones and things like that," says Dave Batchelor, archaeologist at Stonehenge. "I think what is wrong in the way it's being reported is that the purpose of Stonehenge was not effectively as a concert hall or for music. What was going on at Stonehenge involved instruments, voice, and all those sort of things."
     "The fundamental thing about Stonehenge is that we will never know what it was for - we will never know why they built it where they did and all of those questions. There's no way of understanding why people chose that particular form, because that wasn't recorded in any form other than verbally. What we can do is measure, photograph and record it and then make fairly consensual conclusions," added Batchelor.

Sources: Telegraph.co.uk (4 January 2009), Daily Mail (5 January 2009), Ben Miller for 24 Hour Museum (7 January 2009)

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