Archaeo-acoustics is establishing itself as a research area within archaeology, and acoustic mapping becoming acknowledged as a valued aspect of archaeological fieldwork. In 2006, Paul Devereux and Jon Wozencroft initiated the Landscape & Perception project, a pilot study of raw visual and acoustic elements mainly on and around the Carn Menyn ridge, Mynydd Preseli, south-west Wales - the source area of some of the Stonehenge bluestones. The project asked: "What might Stone Age eyes and ears have perceived in this landscape, and what made it important to the builders of Stonehenge?".
We had a strong suspicion there would be ringing or musical rocks on Mynydd Preseli, because of early comments by 'rock gong' pioneer Bernard Fagg, and place-name clues such as Maenclochog (Welsh for ringing or bell stones), and Bellstone Quarry. According to our sampling, there is a 5 to 10 percent average incidence of ringing rocks on Carn Menyn, which in places rises to 15 to 20 percent, with small "hotspots" up to double that again.
The ringing rocks identified at Carn Menyn and the surrounding carns issue a range of metallic sounds, from pure bell-like tones to tin drum noises to deeper gong-like resonances. They can be any shape, the only common denominator being sufficient air space around them to resonate. It can be shown that the sonic properties of the Preseli stones would have been known to Stone Age ears. Whoever made those indentations on stones could not have failed to notice the stone's acoustic properties, and the cup marks may even be a consequence of repeated percussion to elicit sounds.
Many of the bluestones at Stonehenge have been struck at some point in the past - either before they were transported, prior to their erection at Stonehenge, or during their presence at the monument. A key question of the project relates to how the sonic properties of the Carn Menyn bluestones might have been a factor in their selection for the building of Stonehenge, and in July 2013 the fieldwork part of the project extended to acoustic tests of the bluestones at Stonehenge - the first time this had been done. The project team tested all the extant bluestones at the monument. Some made distinctive if muted sounds, indicating that they would have probably been full "ringers", were they not set in the ground. Two in particular were noted for such telltale sounds.
In much of the ancient world, echoes from rocks, cliffs or inside caves, rocks that made musical or metallic sounds when struck, or locations that produced unusual noises were regarded as sacred or special in some way. The ancient Chinese had "resonant rocks" which they thought contained supernatural force, and some American Indians used them for rites of passage. On the Indian subcontinent, Neolithic rock art was carved on ringing rocks, and many centuries later sophisticated musical stones were installed in Indian temples. The builders of Stonehenge may well have held similar beliefs.
Visit the Landscape & Perception project web site at http://www.landscape-perception.com
Edited from Time & Mind (2013)
[19 pages, 4 drawings, 30 images]