University recreates the lost sounds of Stonehenge
A team of researchers from the University of Salford has successfully recreated what Stonehenge would have sounded like.
For the past four years Dr Bruno Fazenda, in collaboration with academics from the Universities of Huddersfield and Bristol, has been studying the famous historic site’s acoustic properties.
“Stonehenge is very well known, but people are still trying to find out what it was built for and we thought that doing this research would bring an element of archaeology that so far hasn’t been looked at,” Dr Fazenda said.
This new area of acoustic science has been named archaeoacoustics and Dr Fazenda thinks it could be very helpful in the archaeological interpretation of important buildings and heritage sites, some of which may not exist in their original form, such as in the case of Stonehenge.
The present day Stonehenge shows a few weak echoes and no noticeable reverberation, but because of its derelict state these results cannot be considered as representative of the original building.
To overcome this problem, the research team travelled to Maryhill in the United States, where a full-sized concrete reconstruction of Stonehenge was built in 1929 as a memorial to the soldiers of WWI.
Here it was possible to make proper acoustic measurements that allow an investigation into striking acoustic effects such as echoes, resonances and whispering gallery effects.
The data gathered does not unequivocally reveal whether the site was designed with acoustics in mind, like Greek or Roman theatres. It nevertheless shows that the space reacted to acoustic activity in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man.
The second phase of the research consisted in the creation of a full 3D audio-rendition of the space using a system comprised of 64 audio channels and loudspeakers especially developed at the University of Salford based on Wave Field Synthesis. This system enables an accurate and immersive recreation of what Stonehenge would have sounded like.
“This type of research is important because now we can not only see ourselves surrounded by the stones using virtual reality, but we can also listen how the stone structure would have enveloped people in a sonic experience. It is as if we can travel back in time and experience the space in a more holistic way,” Dr Fazenda said.
Dr Fazenda also thinks that this research opens a whole new world for archaeoacoustics: “It is certainly growing and gaining a lot more interest. Of course there are other sites of interest, and as soon as the methodology for studying acoustics in ancient spaces becomes robust then it can be used as a part of archaeology and I believe in the next ten years a lot of such studies will include acoustics.”
Full details of the project can be found here.
By Andrea Roveri, student on the BA (Hons) Journalism (Broadcast)