The question as to how Stonehenge’s bluestones traveled about 200 miles from Wales, where they’re thought to have originated, to Wiltshire, England, is only one part of the historic rock site’s mystery. Why these stones hundreds of miles away were chosen for the rock structure is another.
A new study suggests the stones could have been chosen for their acoustic properties.
“What might Stone Age eyes and ears have perceived in this landscape, and what aspects made it become important to the builders of Stonehenge?”
That’s the question researchers at the Royal College of Art in London have been working toward answering, according to a recent study, part of the Landscape & Perception project, published in the the Journal of Time & Mind.
Researching the rock outcrops in areas where some Stonehenge rocks are thought to have originated, the team found a higher percentage of “sonic rocks,” also known as “lithophones” that produce metallic sounds when hit with a hammerstone. They can sound like a bell, gong or tin drum, according the RCA.
In July, the researchers also tested the rocks at Stonehenge. The RCA’s article about the study stated that the team didn’t expect too much of this test because lithophones require space for the sound waves to vibrate. The researchers also felt the stones being anchored to the ground would dampen any acoustic properties they might have.
The researchers were therefore surprised when they found the rocks still produced sound and had sufficient space to vibrate.
Here’s more about the findings from the Royal College of Art:
Magical stones. So were the bluestones, coming from a mysterious soundscape, invested with special magic, special sanctity, in the eyes of the megalith builders? The L&P project investigators believe so, and that this may have been the prime reason behind the otherwise inexplicable transport of these stones nearly 200 miles from Preseli to Salisbury Plain. There were plentiful local rocks from which Stonehenge could have been built, yet the bluestones were clearly considered special.
The old stones speak. Today, ringing rocks, lithophones, are considered as mere curiosities, but it’s a mistake to project our modern prejudices on to prehistory: we know from cross-cultural studies that in much of the ancient world, echoes from rocks, cliffs or inside caves, or rocks that made musical or unusual sounds when struck, were thought to contain spirits or magical forces. In particular, ringing rocks, ‘lithophones’, were held in high regard. The architects of Stonehenge may well have held similar beliefs.
You can hear one of the rocks being tested for sound in this video:
Jon Wozencroft, an investigator with the Landscape & Perception project, told the U.K.’s Daily Mail in cases when the such rocks are not anchored in place like they are at Stonehenge, the sound of them being struck can be heard up to a mile away.
Wozencroft said “the sound is mysterious” and that he believes striking the rocks could have been part of a ritual.
It’s not the first time musical capabilities have been cited of the Stonehenge rocks.