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.

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