Sound effects inspired Stonehenge: US scientist

February 16, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan
Stonehenge. Image: Wikipedia.

Ancient legends of thunder gods can be explained today with the modern science of sound waves, said a US scientist on Thursday who believes an auditory illusion inspired the creation of Stonehenge.

The famous, 5,000 year-old stone circle in Britain is one of the best-known and many have guessed at the reasons for its existence, from a prehistoric observatory to sun temple to sacred healing ground.

Steven Waller, who has studied cave art for 20 years and cultivates a particular interest in the sounds of ancient sites, thinks that a wave effect that scientists understand today was so mysterious back then that it compelled people to erect .

The phenomenon is known as acoustic interference. It happens when two sources of sound, such as two bagpipers, are playing the same note at the same time from different places in a field.

As a listener passes, the , rather than aligning to make the noise louder as one might expect, actually bounce off each other to create a wavering, muffling effect.

"You hear the sound modulating between and loud and quiet," Waller told reporters at the conference in Vancouver.

"That would have been a very mysterious phenomenon, totally inexplicable. You would think that two pipers playing would sound louder than one piper but as you walk around it modulates and there are some places where it is almost completely silent," he said.

"So the net result... is this ring of invisible objects, massive objects blocking the sound. And it occurred to me that that is very similar to the structure of Stonehenge."

Legends back up the notion, too, like the tale of the two magic pipers who led some maidens to dance around in a circle and they all turned to stone, Waller recounted.

But being a scientist, legends were not enough to satisfy his curiosity, so Waller set up an experiment to test his theory with modern people wearing blindfolds and experiencing the same auditory illusion as the pipers in a field scenario.

"I asked them what was between them and the sound," Waller said. "They drew pictures that are very similar to Stonehenge. They pictured these massive objects blocking the sound, where it was really just sound wave cancellation."

Waller also found that when he tested the site itself, placing a sound source in the center of Stonehenge and then walking around to hear how it came across, the same blocking, modulating effect could be heard.

Still, he remains convinced that the sound illusion came first, inspiring the erection of the stone circle with its 17 upright blocks of sandstone, which weigh up to 45 tons, topped with six lintels aligned towards the direction of the sunrise on the summer solstice.

"As a result of that auditory illusion and that vision of stones that they could hear but not see, that is why they built Stonehenge," Waller said. "They made that vision concrete, so to speak, by actually building the temple."

Waller said his theory doesn't necessarily conflict with others that suppose a solar purpose, because both indicate the site was a mystical place where people tried to understand the makings of the universe.

"Stonehenge is one the big mysteries of the past. Yes, there are a lot of theories but they are all controversial, none of them really explain... None of the theories really add up."

He also urged contemporary society to take care to preserve the acoustic past of our predecessors and the archeological sites we hold dear, and cautioned against destroying them through practices such as widening ancient caves for easier tourist access.

"Nobody has been paying attention to the sounds. We have been destroying the sounds," he said.

"The ancient people didn't know about sound waves. It was magic. That is why we need to preserve and study the soundscapes of archeological sites."

Explore further: Prehistoric site found near UK's Stonehenge

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5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2012
[With] acoustic interference ... the sound waves, rather than aligning to make the noise louder as one might expect, actually bounce off each other to create a wavering, muffling effect.
Er, no. Waves do not "bounce off each other". They can combine constructively or destructively, giving regions of increased or decreased amplitude respectively. They can reflect from surfaces, such as water, stone, trees, etc., but not from each other.
2 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2012
While I don't dispute that the described auditory effects occur, suggesting that they had something to do with the reason for inspiring the construction of Stonehenge is nonsense. Moving the (up to) 65 ton blocks into an alignment with the sun and the stars makes sense because it could have been worked out in advance through observation. BTW, a properly supported sandstone block will ring like a bell when it is stricken.
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 16, 2012
Re: "Stonehenge is one the big mysteries of the past. Yes, there are a lot of theories but they are all controversial, none of them really explain... None of the theories really add up."

The problem for the acoustic theory is that Stonehenge matches a common morphology seen in ancient petroglyphs. Also in those same collections of rock art are the squatter man stick figures. What's striking about the squatter man figures are the two dots, each just beneath the arms stretched out, with forearms up. These two dots appear in the same location with respect to the man from petroglyphs seen over the entire world!

Similar morphologies to the squatter man can be created with high-intensity plasma discharges on the z-machine. Anthony Peratt, former advisor to the Department of Energy and z-machine researcher, has published on this subject in IEEE's Transactions on Plasma Sciences.


See figure 48. That is your Stonehenge.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2012
The way you think is more amazing!
What ever makes you reason such a connection
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2012
Its hard to believe that people would raise such an enormous structure just to imitate this acoustic phenomenon. I wonder if they even had musical instruments precise enough to produce the exact same pitch -
but if they did it would most certainly strike them as very very strange! A hidden, world which could only be accessed by music.. that is the stuff mythology is made of.
1 / 5 (8) Feb 16, 2012
Re: "What ever makes you reason such a connection"

If you're talking to me (???) ...

1. The Earth is embedded into a *PLASMA* environment.
2. Plasmas are electrical in the laboratory (think fluorescent light).
3. Cosmic plasmas behave as laboratory plasmas.
4. A common feature of high-intensity discharge plasmas is the synchrotron radiation.
5. Synchrotron can explain the dots under the squatter man's arms.
6. If one was to look "down the barrel" of the electrical discharge, they would see radial streamers emanating from a central point -- similar to a novelty plasma globe.
7. The magnetosphere is a plasma cell.
8. A sufficiently powerful plasma discharge can penetrate the plasma cell.
9. When this happens, if you see the figure outlined by Stonehenge above you, you're about to die.

To think it hasn't happened before is wishful thinking. We see the squatter man with its synchrotron all over the planet.
not rated yet Feb 16, 2012
Crap circles.
not rated yet Feb 17, 2012
As a listener passes, the sound waves, rather than aligning to make the noise louder as one might expect, actually bounce off each other to create a wavering, muffling effect.

5 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2012
"but as you walk around it modulates and there are some places where it is almost completely silent," he said."

And that's a good thing when it comes to bagpipes. ;P
not rated yet Feb 17, 2012 try though

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