Archaeoacoustics 0 Comments


Here is a fascinating topic that I came across with, just by chance: Archaeoacoustics, a new science that is particularly relevant in understanding the real functions of specific archaeological sites, as well as some ancient artifacts. Until a few years ago, archaeology only studied the most tangible aspect of archaeological finds, that is, their physical part.

Today, Archaeoacoustics could really make us understand that the distant past is not silent, but has always been full of sounds, messages for those who want to listen to them.

Let's imagine the sound of craftsmen or artists beating on the stone, to hear its resonance by looking for the core point in the stone, to then make it vibrate and taming it by working it. It is a timeless action, done since the beginning of history. The stones, the bones of the earth. Bones buried in mother earth, almost roots of life. Primitive man knew the nature and vibrations of its energy, a resonance that spoke to him. 

Acoustic effect was very important in past societies that communicated through sounds. Pinuccio Sciola: Sardinian Sculptor and Muralist, had retrieved the art: he listened to the vibration sound of the stone through caress, not percussion. He, who claimed to be born from a stone, from which he extracted its song by listening to the beat, the resonance, the energy, just like the ancient Sardinian ancestors did. 

In all likelihood, Archaeoacoustics has always been there, but only nowadays we "modern" men would like to recover its lost secret. In the sixties, some scholars tried to identify possible acoustic phenomena "recorded" on ancient terracotta pots, which could be "legible" like a vinyl record with its grooves, trying to recover sounds produced during their creation. It was perhaps a too imaginative theory but certainly brilliant. It was a question of trying to extract sounds from archaeological finds, perhaps the voice of the craftsmen who had built them and the existing noises in their environment while they produced their works. Their hand, in fact, vibrating would have transmitted the vibration to the tool they were using, a burin, a chisel or any other tool to work clay. The grooves that were sculpted on the object would have that sound engraved. It’s the gramophone principle. Just imagine a conversation dated 5000 years ago, being able to hear a syllable or a word spoken by a potter or a blacksmith ... What an electrifying experience! But the research, not having produced interesting results, was suspended. 

In 2003 two scholars wrote a book, Archaeoacoustics. More concretely, the book studies the function of sound, from the most remote antiquity to the nineteenth century. It has in fact been discovered that some ancient structures (megalithic tombs, painted caves dating back to the Paleolithic, various archaeological sites, Romanesque churches) possess sound characteristics so particular to induce the researchers to look for the motivations inspiring their constructors.

Some archaeological complexes were clearly built to minimize external noises, to create an isolation aimed at enhancing the inside sounds. In the past it was believed that sounds could connect with the divine, confirming the hypothesis that while building sacred structures, the ancients held in great consideration the exploitation of sounds, obtaining very particular sound effects from stones, even with male voices, featuring low frequency with a long wavelength. Voices perhaps used to promote psychotherapy during shamanic rites.

It is also possible to imagine that those who built the hypogea knew so much about the human mind that acoustic phenomena could influence consciousness states. They could also be conditioned by hallucinogens, or by numbness, perhaps caused by the juice of Euphorbia, sa lua, a very common plant in Sardinia. (see ALLUAI! Fishing with Euphorbia juice).

Why consider that primitive man was not aware of Archaeoacoustics? The accomplishment of the works he left us could tell us much more than we have wanted or been able to hear so far. The acoustic phenomena produced within the archaeological sites deriving from voices, wind, water or thermal changes, which created mystical charms attributable to the afterlife, can confirm that the stones were used wisely also as tools, and not only as architectural structures.

Tell me the truth: Archaeoacoustics has intrigued you too!

“You will find something more in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.” Bernard of Clairvaux


Written by Daniela Toti

In the photo: the hypogea in San Salvatore - photo credits Laura Mor

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