Sunday, July 06, 2008


Those of you who enjoy music -- classical, ethnic, rock or hiphop should find this story fascinating.

Prehistoric peoples chose places of natural resonant sound to draw their famed cave sketches, according to new analysis of paleolithic caves in France. In at least ten locations, drawings of horses, bison, and mammoths seem to match locations that focus, amplify, and transform the sounds of human voices and musical instruments.

"In the cave of Niaux in Ariège, most of the remarkable paintings are situated in the resonant Salon Noir, which sounds like a Romanesque chapel," said Iegor Reznikoff, an acoustics expert at the University of Paris who conducted the research Reznikoff first noticed the strategic placement of cave art while visiting Le Portel, a paleolithic cave in France, in 1983.

An expert in the acoustics of 11th- and 12th-century European churches, Reznikoff often hums to himself when entering a room for the first time so he can "feel its sounds." He was surprised to discover that in some of the rooms in Le Portel decorated with painted animals, his humming became noticeably louder and clearer. "Immediately the idea came. Would there be a relationship between the location of the painting and the quality of the resonance in these locations?" Since that moment, Reznikoff has found correlations between painting locations and the resonance of their surroundings in more than ten paleolithic caves across France with illustrations ranging from 25,000 to 15,000 years old.

Paul Pettitt, a paleolithic rock art expert at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. who was not involved in the study, said Reznikoff's theory could explain the puzzling distribution of
paintings at many cave sites. "In a number of decorated caves the images cluster in certain areas," Pettitt said. "They are not randomly distributed but seem deliberately placed, with areas of perfectly 'paintable' walls ignored, and in a number of cases the paintings cluster in areas of resonance." Pettitt added that Reznikoff's research is consistent with other work that suggests music and dance played an integral role in the lives of ancient people. Instruments such as bone flutes and 'roarers' — bone and ivory instruments that whir rhythmically when spun — have been found in decorated caves.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thousands mark summer solstice at Stonehenge

As the author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone (for young adults), I always like to mark the count of the crowds that gather at the summer solstice. This year some 30,000 celebrated as dawn broke on the Wiltshire plain.

Druids, hippies and sun-worshippers were among those who gathered to watch the sun rise at the ancient stone circle at 0458 BST on the longest day. Rainy conditions obscured the sunrise but the turnout was still the highest in five years. As the dawn broke a cheer went up from revellers who gathered at the Heel stone. - a pillar at the edge of the prehistoric monument.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage, which runs the 5,000-year-old site, said the last time a turnout of 30,000 was achieved was in 2003. "It's been very wet and soggy," she said.
"Probably a few disappointed people, many streaming out before sunrise because it was so wet and cold. I don't think it will discourage people from coming again. Quite a few people come every year and are quite hardy."

Source: BBC News (21 June 2008)

Ohio's Treasures -- the Newark Earthworks

If you have never visited the Newark Earthworks in central Ohio, don't miss them. Ohio Historical Society officials are considering the possible transfer of these 2,000-year-old American Indian earthworks to the National Park Service because more money is needed
to maintain and manage the site. The society's Board of Trustees will meet to decide whether to authorize a study by the National Park Service on the benefits and costs involved in transferring ownership of the Newark Earthworks.

The Columbus-based society owns the site that includes the Great Circle Earthworks, the Octagon Earthworks and the Wright Earthworks. The three major segments are the only preserved parts of the earthworks that once covered more than four square miles. "The society
does not currently have the resources to maintain and manage the site as it should," Executive Director William K. Laidlaw Jr. said in a statement. "With the earthworks being considered for World Heritage status, the need for improved access will increase."

The Newark Earthworks, built by prehistoric Hopewell people between 100 BCE and 500 CE, are believed to have been used for religious, ceremonial and social purposes. The site is a National Historic Landmark. A transfer would have to be approved by the society, the National Park Service, the Legislature and Congress.

Source: (24 June 2008)

Paris -- much older than we thought!

If you're visiting Paris soon, you might keep the following in mind. Paris has long been known to be a very old city but its history as a settlement has just been extended by more than 3,000 years. An archaeological dig moves back Paris's first known human occupation to
about 7600 BCE, in the Mesolithic period between the two stone ages.

An area about the size of a football field on the south-western edge of the city, close to the banks of the river Seine, has yielded thousands of flint arrowheads and fragments of animal bone. The site, between the Paris ring road and the city's helicopter port, is believed by archaeologists to have been used, nearly 10,000 years ago, as a kind of sorting and finishing station for flint pebbles washed up on the banks of the river.

The oldest previous human settlement discovered within the Paris city boundaries dates back to about 4500 BCE – a fishing and hunting village beside the Seine at Bercy near the Gare de Lyon railway station. The new exploration – by Inrap, the French government agency for 'preventive' archaeology on sites where new building is imminent – pushes back the history of the city to the mysterious period between the Old and New stone ages.

The site in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, about a mile from the Eiffel Tower, has been preserved by silt from the frequent flooding of the Seine. Archaeologists believe that it was used for many centuries during the Mesolithic period, perhaps for periods of only a few weeks at a time, as a place to prospect for, and sort out, flint pebbles for cutting into arrowheads. The dig has also unearthed larger instruments made from granite. They include an almost perfectly
round hand-held pounder the size of a billiard ball, and long stone blades, possibly used for making arrow shafts or scraping animal skins. Evidence on the site suggests that it remained in use as a human settlement, on and off, until the iron age, from 800 to 500 BCE.

Source: The Independent (26 June 2008)