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Temple of the Winds

30 October 2010

New Scientist August 21st … Thomas Hardy's temple of the winds, Stonehenge, might have been constructed to take into account sound effects – from voices and not just the wind whistling between the stones. Some archaeologists have taken an interest in acoustics – caves that sing, Maya temples that seem to chirp, burial mounds that hum,  and stones that reverberate like an echo chamber – even ring like a gong when banged. This is an emphemeral kind of archaeology and not everyone's cup of tea – but how much of it is in the head?

It is probable that sound was important to past generations – the modern world is full of noise. It lacks stillness. Paul Devereux thinks our ancestors would have been essentially more calm and attentive in a much quieter world. For example, burial mounds seem to maximise the acoustic impact of ritual chanting. Stonehenge is open to the elements and it might be expected that sound would scatter vertically yet the stones are oddly two faced. Those facing outwards are roughly hewn but the interior surfaces have been chipped away laboriously to smooth them into a slightly convex form that is actually ideal for high frequency reflection. It is an ideal place for speaking as the voice reflects from the stones – in a reverberating manner. The power of echo (see also Paul Devereux, Stone Age Soundtracks Vega: 2001 companion to Channel Four's 'Secrets of the Dead: Sounds from the Stone Age').

BBC News 30th Oct (see www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11621802 ) … the latest research at Silbury Hill claims it was adopted as a defensive position by the Anglo-Saxons in the war against the Vikings. In the process the top of the hill was modified. The evidence consists of a huge post hole which may indicate a wooden palisade was erected, like a small fort or a beacon. The hill was constructed, it is contended, not in the three phases as previously determined by Richard Atkinson, but in some 15 smaller phases – and these all took place within 2400-2300BC. The hill, apparently, had not always been a hill, as it began life as a bank and ditch enclosure, somewhat resembling a henge. It is not described as a henge which may mean its pre-2400BC function has not yet been determined. What gave rise to the most recent theories is the nature of some of the soils found within the hill. They appear to have been brought from different surrounding regions and outcrops. In general, the latest research has spawned more questions than it has answered, and is a bit disappointing … but then, I haven't yet read the book. Expect future post.

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