The pursuit of supernatural sound effects may be what drove the building of the first megalithic monuments and subsequent changes that shaped our world. Archaeoacoustics: a new multi-disciplinary field of study provides a compelling understanding of what sound and music were doing for people in the ancient world. By relating the world’s oldest monumental sites, their artifacts and cultural traditions related to the use of sound, a history-book-changing picture emerges about ancient human development.
Many laypeople may see the word “archaeoacoustics” as a typo, unaware that this intricate new field of study holds the key to understanding the world’s oldest monuments and the people who launched western civilization. It’s the study of sound as it relates to the ancient world, and pioneering researchers are passionate about harnessing its power.
Ancient societies have left us clues in architectural components and art that are pure expression in their own prehistoric language, but it isn’t easy for us to read. With the study of Archaeoacoustics, the world’s oldest buildings, from Gobekli Tepe in Anatolia to the megalithic temples of Malta to the passage tombs of Ireland and dolmens of Portugal are examined with scientific data from the realms of Archaeology, Architecture, Anthropology, Genetics, Physics, and Physiology. Fascinating pieces of evidence can be set side by side, resulting in a stunning premise that not only goes where no one has gone before, but has big implications for how we might be able to reclaim ancient knowledge for productive use today.
A number of international conferences and field expeditions have brought together data that weaves an intricate ancient tapestry in a way never previously explored. Linda C. Eneix, conference organizer and editor of proceedings, feels that modern compartmentalization of specialized knowledge has unintentionally handicapped our understanding of one of the most pivotal times in the human story: the agricultural revolution that fostered settlement in towns and eventually cities: a change that sparked civilization. “The most significant factor in this field is its multi-disciplinary aspect,” explains Eneix, “a phenomenon that at first seems like pseudo-science to an archaeologist becomes abundantly clear when it is explained by a physicist. A rock art specialist can help us see details that could easily be overlooked by the untrained eye. Something that musicologists have known for years takes on new meaning when it is applied to ancient social structure and lifestyle.”
Archaeologist Dr. Fernando Coimbra agrees, “The multidisciplinary character of Archaeoacoustics can provide a deeper insight, providing a better knowledge of the past, a better understanding of the present and a better planning of the future.” Coimbra recognizes a new direction for interpretation of heritage sites. “In the last years,” he says, “Archaeoacoustics has been contributing with important data in order to understand better several social aspects of past communities, when studying, for example, the acoustic properties of some places, sound frequencies and acoustic phenomena, among other aspects. Indeed this helps to explain the role of sound across History and its effects on the human brain and consequent behavior of individuals and societies. “
The next international multi-disciplinary conference on Archaeoacoustics will be held in Tomar, Portugal in October 2017. Registration is open to non-presenting observers. Archaeoacoustics III is organized by The OTS Foundation, The Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal, The Instituto Terra e Memória (ITM) and The Geosciences Centre of Coimbra University. Details can be found online: website
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