Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Landscape and Archaeoacoustics

Algonkian rock painting. Picture by Paul Deveraux
There is a mysterious unity between people and their landscape. Three modes of landscape perception are: view from a viewpoint, view from a road, and view of an area. But view is not enough. Sound in some of its less familiar forms, echoes for example, must have been more mysterious to ancient people, who lived in a quieter world .

Archaeoacoustics is the discipline that explores acoustic phenomena encoded in ancient artifacts, caverns, landscape. Theoretically a pot or vase could be "read" like a gramophone record for messages from the past.
The idea was first raised by David E. H. Jones in the 6 February 1969 issue of New Scientist magazine.
The aim of archaeoacoustics is to investigate the primary sensory status of prehistoric people in relation to the landscapes they created and inhabited.
Recent work by the acoustic researcher Steven Waller in the USA, Australia and elsewhere, indicates that some prehistoric rock art panels produce echoes that act like “soundtracks” to paintings of animals, simulating the rumble of depicted animal herds, for instance, the roar of a lion or sabre-toothed tiger.
In the Palaeolithic caves it has been found that echoes from the lithophones or human voices tend to be strongest from rock wall surfaces which contain rock paintings.
The Native American tribes of the Great Lake region believed that a spirit world existed behind rock surfaces, which were conceived of as being like “membranes” between that world and this. For modern people, of course a rock is just a big stone, rock and spirit have to be separated, but for ancient people a rock can represent the fundamental act of creation, there is no dichotomy, the rock is a manifestation of its transcendent origin.
Places where rock met water were thought to be especially propitious locations for rock spirits to exist. And these are also the locations where echoes are strongest. The Indians thought that while in their ritually-induced trance states, their shamans could penetrate through cracks and crevices in the rock-face into the spirit world beyond, and also that spirits could pass through from behind it into the human world. If the shaman failed, he could be trapped in the world of spirits. Echoes would have been considered part of such traffic between worlds.
Archaeoacoustic researchers are finding that there can be other sonic properties to archaeological sites, manifested by wind, water or heat expansion sounds issuing from crevices in the rocks of natural sites which in consequence became venerated and often marked by rock art, or by blowing into holes in venerated rocks. Also, the architecture of some temple structures appears to have been deliberately designed so that percussion or wind would produce sounds providing weather warnings or even quite sophisticated “acoustic symbolism”. Examples of all these types of acoustic sites have been identified in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Greece, Britain. Archæologists have finally discovered that various kinds of acoustic effects – from eerie echoes to resonant frequencies that can affect the brain – seem to have been an intentionally planned component of a number of prehistoric sites and buildings worldwide.
“It is said in the Kabbalistic tradition that even if the tradition were lost, it could be reconstituted, because what was once true is always so.” (Arthur Verluis, p.131)


  1. Just curious: what source did you use for the following statement?

    Three modes of landscape perception are: view from a viewpoint, view from a road, and view of an area.

    (I wrote an article with that phrase :))

  2. Dear Gerd, thank you for your comment. As you can see in the welcome message, these posts (most of them) are part of my publications and the rest, ideas, and some material from the web. This particular phrase, I don't remember if I read it in Spanish and translated it, if I took a note (in Spanish) from a text. And I do remember writing it directly, without "copy" and paste. As you can imagine, I have lots of references, but these below are the ones for the closest article, if you find yourself, I have no trouble in including a link. Thank you
    Castro, Rafaela. Chicano folklore: a guide to the folktales, traditions, rituals, and religious practices of Mexican Americans. Oxford University Press.2000
    By Marie Jordan
    Revista chilena de historia natural
    versión impresa ISSN 0716-078X
    Rev. chil. hist. nat. v.73 n.4 Santiago dic. 2000
    doi: 10.4067/S0716-078X2000000400015
    Variación de la percepción del recurso paisaje en el sur de Chile
    Variation of the perception of the landscape resource in Southern Chile
    Palmer, James. Research Agenda for Landscape Perception

    Drexler, Dora. Landscape Perceptions – The Symbolic Meaning of Landscape and its Role in Mental Wellbeing
    Virginia D. Nazarea A Map of Her Own: Accessing the Imagined, Imagining the Unaccessed



Related Posts with Thumbnails