Stonehenge's mystery finally solved with breathtaking 3D 'acoustic' model

Constructed by ancient Britons thousands of years ago, Stonehenge’s true purpose has baffled researchers throughout the centuries.

Was it utilized as a burial ground? A vantage point for celestial observations? Perhaps it served as a sanctuary for religious rituals or even sacrifices. We still don’t know. 

The circular arrangement of its stones and their alignment with night-sky phenomena have, however, long perplexed scientists.

Numerous efforts have been made to decode the enigma of Stonehenge, with archaeologists along the way unearthing a myriad of artefacts and remnants.

One recent initiative involved reconstructing the renowned megalith using 3D printing technology, aiming to delve into its acoustic characteristics — encompassing conversations, rituals, and music.

Due to its distinct layout, it’s speculated that speech and music may have been confined within the structure, inaccessible to those outside.

To replicate this acoustic phenomenon, acoustical engineer Professor Trevor Cox and his team from the University of Salford employed laser scans to fabricate a scaled-down 3D model, dubbed ‘Stonehenge Lego.’

Writing in the study’s paper, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, he said: “Constructing and testing the model was very time-consuming, a labour of love, but it has given the most accurate insight into the prehistoric acoustics to date. With so many stones missing or displaced, the modern acoustic of Stonehenge is very different to that in prehistory.”

Assuming an initial construction of 30 large stones, the team crafted replicas of 27 stones of varying shapes and sizes, accompanied by 130 additional elements.

Each stone was meticulously designed to mimic the sound absorption properties of the original Stonehenge stones.

Strategically positioned speakers and microphones emitted sounds across a spectrum of frequencies around the model.

Remarkably, despite its open configuration, the model contained the transmitted sounds for a brief duration.

With an average reverberation time of approximately 0.6 seconds for mid-frequency sounds, the model enhanced vocal clarity and instrument resonance.

The absence of echoing and the scattering of sounds by inner stone groups underscored the potential acoustic chamber-like attributes of Stonehenge, possibly enhancing auditory experiences within its confines, for ceremonial or funerary purposes.

Susan Greaney, Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage, who contributed to the project said: “Testing the acoustics of a scale model of Stonehenge has given some new insights into how the monument might have been used in prehistory.

“The results show that music, voices or percussion sounds made at the monument could only really be heard by those standing within the stone circle, suggesting that any rituals that took place there were intimate events. It’s exciting to see how modern techniques of laser scanning, 3D printing and acoustic modelling can tell us about the distant past.”


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