December 14, 2013
Stonehenge May Have Served A Musical Purpose
Stonehenge. An ancient structure, shrouded in mystery, this monolithic structure has been the focal point of both scholar and storyteller for hundreds of years. No one’s really sure who built it, or when they built it, or why they built it, but this is precisely what makes it so intriguing. There have been dozens (if not hundreds) of theories postulated throughout the years, but a recent suggestion by scholars at London’s Royal College of Art sets itself apart from all others. Instead of the standard religious, practical, or mystical assertion, their recent article published in the Journal of Time and Mind suggests that Stonehenge was, in fact, a prehistoric music arena. Its builders simply wanted to (wait for it) rock out.
The big question with Stonehenge has always been “why?” Why bother lifting the massive rocks upright? Why excavate them all the way from Pembrokeshire and drag them over 200 miles to the final build site? Why not build where the stones were found, or use stones closer to their desired dig spot? Acoustics. The Carn Menyn ridge, on Mynydd Preseli in South-West Wales, consists of the unique stone used to construct Stonehenge: the Preseli Bluestones. These stones don’t seem all that special at first glance. Strike them with a hammer, however, and you’ll find that they make a metallic ringing sound akin to a gong. When different stones were struck in different places, the researchers noticed a variety of different sounds, ranging from the metallic clang of the gong to a muted, thick wooden sound. In the simplest sense, it played like a xylophone, and the research teams noted several places where the stones showed evidence of having already been struck. The bluestones of Carn Menyn were used by the nearby village of Maenclochog (which actually means “bell” or “ringing stones”) well into the 1700s, but researchers postulate it would have been well within the capability of ancient man to discover the sonic resonance these stones produce.
It’s interesting to see these new findings and think about how they might couple with some of the older Stonehenge hypotheses. Those studying the question of location have suggested that the monument might have been linked to the worship of a sun god, or it may have started out as a burial ground. What I find most interesting is that these theories are not mutually exclusive. Think about it … what is one common theme often found at both funeral services and worship ceremonies? Music. It would also explain why the people who built Stonehenge lugged the stones over 200 miles. If they were simply looking for a quick musical fix, it would have made more sense to find the stones near the excavation point. However, if they were already dealing with a fixed location, a site that was thought to be sacred, it would make sense that the stones would become the mobile element. Rather than bury their dead or worship their god away from hallowed ground, they brought this new discovery back with them.
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