Inquisitive

The mystery of Stonehenge that’s right on our doorstep

Stone circle acoustics would have created incredible sound

You may know Stonehenge as the landmark for telling you that you’re nearly at Glastonbury after hours on the road.

Other than being an indicator for arriving at the music extravaganza, the site holds deep meaning for many people who believe it has healing powers.

While there is little evidence as to who built the monument, it is believed that it served as a ceremonial site, a religious pilgrimage destination, or a final resting place for aristocrats.

Now, a new study has also unveiled the magnitude of its sound abilities by creating a smaller replica model of the monument and placing it inside an acoustics-testing chamber.

[Credit: Ankit Sood]

By doing this, research has found that sounds emanating from near the centre reverberated within the structure, meaning noise – whether human voices or music – would have been amplified inside and muffled or indistinct outside of the stones.

Speaking about his discovery, Trevor Cox, an acoustical engineer at the University of Salford, explained that while research has previously been conducted on the remains in Wiltshire, he wanted to know how it sounded in 2200 B.C. when all the stones were in place.

The motivation behind this is that now and then could sound very different, with 63 stones remaining intact today despite an estimated 157 being erected when it was first created.

Trevor said: “We expected to lose a lot of sound vertically as there’s no roof. What we found instead was thousands upon thousands of reflections as the sound waves bounced around horizontally. You can compare it to singing outside, and then singing in a tiled bathroom.

“Your voice sounds better in the bathroom.”

[Credit: Hulki Okan Tabak]

He continued: “Human ceremonies nearly always have speeches, singing or chanting. We know there were musical instruments around – bone flutes, pipes, drums, horns – and they would have sounded amazing inside the circle.

“If you were important, you’d definitely want to be in there. If you were on the outside, not only was your view obscured, you couldn’t hear what was going on either.”

Trevor is only just scratching the surface though and next on the agenda is to start work with musicians who are eager to replicate the same reverberations in their recordings, meaning they can record their instruments to sound like they’re playing at ancient Stonehenge.

While the mystery and wonder of Stonehenge continues to spark more questions than answers, one thing we do know is that the stones were aligned to mimic the movements of the sun.

[Credit: Sung Shin]

This provides another theory as to who built them, with many believing farmers, herders and pastoralists created the stones to guide them on the changing seasons and crop growth.

Consequently, the location is a mecca on summer solstice and people flock to Salisbury Plan to celebrate the longest day of the year on June 21, otherwise known as midsummer.

On a recent episode of Walking Through History, a further development found evidence that people had lived near the monument at the neighbouring Durrington Walls site.

This means that our ancestors would have resided near Stonehenge in what presenter Tony Robinson called the “largest prehistoric village in Europe”.

Tony said: “At a time when the population of Britain was only in the tens of thousands, Durrington Walls could support up to 5,000 people.”

It is hoped this new discovery will continue to shed light on who built Stonehenge.

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