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Archaeo News 

19 November 2010
Conference sheds light on sounds of the past

Archaeoacoustics, or acoustic archaeology, focuses on the use and experience of sound in past cultures. Researchers at the Acoustical Society of America's recent conference in Cancun recently presented their investigations into a range of fascinating sound experiences that were devised by ancient peoples around the world.
     Miriam Kolar of Stanford University's Center for Computer Research and Acoustics has been mapping the mazelike tunnels, drains and hallways constructed by the Peruvian Chavin some 3000 years ago. She states that "the structures could be physically disorienting and the acoustic environment is very different than the natural world." Giant sea shells trumpets found in the maze could have contributed to the creation of a soundscape, and ducts used sunlight to create distorted shadows of maze users. Chavin iconography "shows people mixed with animal features in altered states of being, " explained Kolar. "There is peyote and mucus trails out of the nose indicative of people using psychoactive plant substances. They were taking drugs and having a hallucinogenic experience." Evidently the locals were adept at creating and manipulating sensory experiences involving sound.
     Elsewhere in America, at the Maya site of Chichen Itza in northern Yucatan, acoustic engineer David Lubman has suggested that the bird-like echo from the Kukulkan temple is an intentional feature of the site. He compared the soundprint of the echo with that of the quetzal bird, sacred to the Maya, and found that the two prints matched. He associates the echo with the steep staircase on the front of the temple. It was also found that rulers were able to address large crowds without shouting due to the acoustic design of the site's giant ball court.
     British researchers at Stonehenge are investigating the acoustic effects of drumming at the site.

Edited from Discovery News (16 November 2010)

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