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The Musical Side of Stonehenge

Updated on March 1, 2012

Archaeologist, Steven Waller (a doctoral researcher at Rock Art Acoustics, USA) suggests a different theory for the purpose of the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, other than a seasonal calendar or place of worship. Waller specializes in the sound properties (acoustics) of ancient sites. He theorizes that Stonehenge might have been constructed in an attempt to mimic a sound-based illusion.

Waller proclaimed at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on February 16, 2012 that, “if two pipers were to play in a field, observers walking around the musicians would hear a strange effect. At certain points the sound waves produced by each piper would cancel each other out, creating spots where the sound is dampened.”

He believes his theory to be speculative, but offers it as an alternative to other theories as to the original purpose of the construction of Stonehenge. The configuration of the monuments mimics the “piper illusion” he sighted when sound was made in the center of the circle.

Waller conceived his theory from myths that link Stonehenge with music. The monuments are sometimes referred to as “Piper Stones.” There is also a legend that reports the stone circles were created when two magic pipers led maidens into the field to dance and then turned them to stone.

Waller conducted several experiments at Stonehenge to support his musical theory. His results led him to believe that the people who built the monument 5,000 years ago might have inadvertently discovered the mysterious sound illusions at other circular structures and built Stonehenge to reproduce the effect.

Although Dr. Waller doesn’t insist that the unique sound properties of Stonehenge was the main reason for the construction of monument, he offers it as a possible secondary inspiration. Since it is impossible to know with certainty what those ancient people were thinking when they put all of that effort into Stonehenge and other circular monument sights in England, Waller’s theory is as good as anyone else’s.


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