A Search for Beauty and Truth Through the Love of Hedgehogs
Monday, February 20, 2012
Stonehenge as Acoustic Experiment
There is a general assumption in anthropology that the larger and more
pointless the structure, the more terrified were the people of their gods.
Stonehenge is a case in point. However it was built, and whoever built it,
it took a tremendous amount of work. You need a very good reason to do it, and the
best reasons of all are to keep the gods happy. They are, after all, the ones
who will keep your crops growing, your enemies cowed, and your body healthy. If
the idea was just to know when to plant the crops, or when to expect an eclipse
of the moon, a simpler, smaller and, above all, lighter, solution would have served.
Stonehenge is what it is because, for some reason, it had to be like that.
So was it built in order to reproduce the interference patterns of sound? It’s
very tempting to say, err, probably not, but Stephen Waller has worked hard to
make his research sound reasonably sensible.
He says, and he’s probably right as far as it goes, that moving around in
the space between two pipers piping we experience louder areas where the sounds
reinforce one another and quieter areas where they almost cancel out, as though
a large stone block were in the way. Ancient Britons were fascinated by this
phenomenon, attributed ritual or mystic significance to it, and built
Stonehenge in order to reproduce it permanently on a massive scale.
When addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a
certain panache and self-confidence are required, especially if the work is a
touch speculative. Steven Waller seems to possess these qualities. At least he was
heard. I shall leave it to the experts to decide whether there is any merit to
his theory, but it’s certainly imaginative.