The Neolithic builders of Stonehenge were inspired by “auditory illusions” when they drew up blueprints for the ancient monument, a researcher claims.
The radical proposal follows a series of experiments by US scientist Steven Waller, who claims the positions of the standing stones match patterns in sound waves created by a pair of musical instruments.
Waller, an independent researcher in California, said the layout of the stones corresponded to the regular spacing of loud and quiet sounds created by acoustic interference when two instruments played the same note continuously.
In Neolithic times, the nature of sound waves – and their ability to reinforce and cancel each other out – would have been mysterious enough to verge on the magical, Waller said. Quiet patches created by acoustic interference could have led to the “auditory illusion” that invisible objects stood between a listener and the instruments being played, he added.
To investigate whether instruments could create such auditory illusions, Waller rigged two flutes to an air pump so they played the same note continuously. When he walked around them in a circle, the volume rose, fell and rose again as the sound waves interfered with each other. “What I found unexpected was how I experienced those regions of quiet. It felt like I was being sheltered from the sound. As if something was protecting me. It gave me a feeling of peace and quiet,” he said.
To follow up, Waller recruited volunteers, blindfolded them, and led them in a circle around the instruments. He then asked participants to sketch out the shape of any obstructions they thought lay between them and the flutes. Some drew circles of pillars, and one volunteer added lintels, a striking feature of the Stonehenge monument.
“If these people in the past were dancing in a circle around two pipers and were experiencing the loud and soft and loud and soft regions that happen when an interference pattern is set up, they would have felt there were these massive objects arranged in a ring. It would have been this completely baffling experience, and anything that was mysterious like that in the past was considered to be magic and supernatural.
Listen to audio here: flutes2.mp3