Sound Archaeology: A Study of the Acoustics of Three World Heritage Sites, Spanish Prehistoric Painted Caves, Stonehenge, and Paphos Theatre

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This paper explores the acoustics of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: five caves in Spain that feature prehistoric paintings that are up to 40,000 years old; Stonehenge stone circle in England, which is over 4000 years old; and Paphos Theatre in Cyprus, which is 2000 years old. Issues with standard acoustic methods are discussed, and a range of different possible approaches are explored for sound archaeology studies, also known as archaeoacoustics. The context of the three sites are examined followed by an analysis of their acoustic properties. Firstly, early decay time is explored, including a comparison of these sites to contemporary concert halls. Subsequently, reverberation, clarity of speech, and bass response are examined. Results show that the caves have a wide range of different naturally occurring acoustics, including reverberation, and strong bass effects. Stonehenge has acoustics that change as the design of the site develops, with some similarities to the effects in the caves. Acoustic effects vary considerably as you move further into the centre of the stone circle, and as the stone circle develops through time; these effects would be noticeable, and are a by-product of the human building of ritual sites. At Paphos Theatre, acoustics vary from the best seats on the front rows, backwards; here, the architects have considered acoustics in the design of the building. The paper illustrates the changing acoustics of ritual sites in human cultures, showing how sound contributed to giving spaces an individual character, helping to afford a sense of contextualized ritual place.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-692
Number of pages32
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2019


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