The mysterious Stonehenge was a dance arena for ancient revellers listening to ‘trance-style’ music, according to one professor who is an expert in sound.
Stonehenge has baffled archaeologists who have argued for decades over the stone circle’s 5,000-year history – but now academic Dr Rupert Till believes he has solved the riddle by suggesting it may have been used for ancient raves.
Part-time DJ Dr Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University, believes the standing stones of Stonehenge had the ideal acoustics to amplify a ‘repetitive trance rhythm’ not dissimilar to some kinds of modern trance music.
The original Stonehenge probably had a ‘very pleasant, almost concert-like acoustic’ that our ancestors slowly perfected over many generations. Because Stonehenge itself is partially collapsed, Dr Till, used a computer model to conduct experiments in sound.
The most exciting discoveries came when he and colleague Dr Bruno Fazenda visited a full-size concrete replica of Stonehenge, which was built as a war memorial by American road builder Sam Hill at Maryhill in Washington state.
He said: ‘We were able to get some interesting results when we visited the replica by using computer-based acoustic analysis software, a 3D soundfield microphone, a dodecahedronic (12-faced) speaker, and a huge bass speaker.
‘We have also been able to reproduce the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.
‘The most interesting thing is we managed to get the whole space (at Maryhill) to resonate, almost like a wine glass will ring if you run a finger round it.
‘While that was happening a simple drum beat sounded incredibly dramatic. The space had real character; it felt that we had gone somewhere special.’
Building on previous research, Dr Till believes ancient Britons had a good ear for sounds and shaped the stones to create the best acoustics.
He went on: ‘Other archaeologists’ research shows that Stonehenge has a specific acoustic design. The stones are all curved and reflect the sound perfectly. The lintels are also curved. They must have noticed that when they placed a stone in a particular place it would have sounded different.’
Dr Till recently spoke to academics at Bristol University about Stonehenge rituals and a research network is being set up to look closer at Neolithic sites.
‘There are two main theories about what Stonehenge was used for,’ he says.
‘One is that it was a healing space, the other that it was a place of the dead.
‘Both of these imply ritual activity, but very little is actually known about the way people sang, danced or performed rituals there because these things left no trace in the archaeological record.
‘However, our research shows that there are particular spots in the site that produce unusual particular acoustic effects, intimating that perhaps a priest or a shaman may have stood there, leading the ritual.
‘This kind of ritual may also have been for healing, so this acoustic study may tie the two main competing theories about Stonehenge together.’
The data is still being analysed, but it is clear that Stonehenge did have a ‘very unusual sound’ says Dr Till.
‘By simulating this sound we can hope to understand more about English culture from 5,000 years ago, and perhaps better understand both our ancestors and our culture today.’