Whatever our prehistoric ancestors were doing at Stonehenge, they were probably doing it to trance music, suggests a new study. Researchers conducted the first mathematical analysis of Stonehenge’s acoustical properties and found that, at its prime, the Bronze Age structure would’ve been the perfect venue for fast-tempo jams.
Since only about a third of the original 80 monoliths that made up Stonehenge are still standing, researchers Rupert Till and Bruno Fazenda used the next best thing: a full-scale concrete replica of Stonehenge located in Washington state. Acoustic tests at the replica site as well as computer simulations showed that a fast tempo of about 160 beats per minute—think trance, or samba, or your heartbeat after some energetic dancing—coincide with the echoes reflected by the stone structures.
The architects of Stonehenge may have been well aware of these and other acoustic effects when they designed the structure. Previous studies have shown that the site selectively amplifies and contains higher-pitched sounds, like human voices, while allowing lower-pitched sounds, like drums, to travel far beyond the stones.
Till suggests that early users of Stonehenge would’ve played a rhythm that matched the echoes, or some multiple of it, to take advantage of the cool acoustics. Though the original purpose of the iconic site is still up to debate—some say it was a healing center, others say a meeting place between the living and the dead—ritual music likely would have been involved. No word yet on whether there was head-banging at Stonehenge, too.
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Image: flickr / dannysullivan