Historically, archaeologists have largely ignored acoustical science as a tool for archaeological discovery. This is changing with the advent of acoustic archaeology.
“Could the Maya have intentionally coded the sound of their sacred bird into the pyramid architecture? I think it is possible.
” Hear it for yourself
in this video.
While this is a pretty astounding feat of architectural engineering, it’s by no means the only example of archaeoacoustics that can be found at Chichen Itza
, amongst the mayan people
, or throughout the many other cultures who’ve built structures that integrate unique auditory phenomenon to stimulate the senses
While we've covered some modern examples
and the temple of Kukulkan
has continued to advance our knowledge and understanding of ancient cultures and the structures they built. As mentioned in this ArsTechnica article on the sound profiling of stonehenge
, "Quite aside from any overt religious message, cult activity, and astronomical import, anyone entering the site would have felt the sense of sound change. Sound echoed, but in a specific way, bouncing from the stones' surfaces, but being rescued from noise by the interstices between them."
A joint paper with Brenda Kiser and David Lubman entitled Ancient Echoes: The Origins of Sound Sculptures
“Natural sounds found a place in ancient religions and myths. Not only were they a part of everyday reality, they constituted a language. Natural sounds were not noises to be disregarded or even to be enjoyed simply because of the pleasant ambience they created. The soundscape conveyed information useful to sustenance and important for survival. Sound became an important element of ritual. Drums and flutes and the human voice imitated elements of the soundscapes. Sounds used in ritual represented the gods that control nature, were intended to propitiate and even to imitate them. By imitating natural sounds, humans were beginning to control nature. Humans were becoming godlike.” […]
“But even if there is reason to believe that the soundscape remains as the original inhabitants heard it, can we learn anything of ancient peoples’ beliefs and culture from listening? I think so. We can only attempt to understand bygone cultures by understanding their beliefs in combination with the artifacts they left behind, including their soundscapes. Visual observation alone will not suffice. The ancient Maya left us an echo recorded in the stone steps of the Temple of Kukulkan. The sacred bird of like still sings. If only we learn again to listen."
“The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza is recognized around the world as an icon of Mexico. As such, even small details around it merit scholarly interest. One small detail ignored by archaeologists until now is the odd chirped echo that resounds from the pyramid's staircases in response to hand claps of people standing near its base. A physical explanation for the chirped echo is proposed: The staircase constitutes an acoustical diffraction grating. Two forms of analytical data are offered in support of this explanation. First, a mathematical simulation of the chirp fundamental frequency vs time is calculated. Then a sonogram of the recorded echo is shown to be in reasonable agreement with these calculations .”, according to acoustical consultant David Lubman
There are other interesting features of the temple at Kukulcan, as well. For instance
“at the spring and fall equinoxes (March 21 and September 22) the sun projects an undulating pattern of light on the northern stairway for a few hours in the late afternoon—a pattern caused by the angle of the sun and the edge of the nine steps that define the pyramid's construction. These triangles of light link up with the massive stone carvings of snake heads at the base of the stairs, suggesting a massive serpent snaking down the structure. Additionally, when one looks at the western face during the winter solstice, the sun appears to climb up the edge of the staircase until it rests momentarily directly above the temple before beginning its descent down the other side.” Watch it here
There is also evidence that some of the cultures in South America went even further with the integration of audio-visual-sensory experiences and mind-expanding drugs
“Miriam Kolar, a researcher at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research and Acoustics, has been studying the 3,000 year-old Chavin culture in the high plains of Peru. Kolar and her colleagues have been mapping a maze of underground tunnels, drains and hallways in which echoes don't sound like echoes.
"The structures could be physically disorienting and the acoustic environment is very different than the natural world," Kolar said. Ancient drawings from the Chavin culture show a people who were fascinated with sensory experiences -- ancient hippies if you will. "The iconography shows people mixed with animal features in altered states of being," said Kolar, who is presenting her recent work at a conference in Cancun, Mexico this week. "There is peyote and mucus trails out of the nose indicative of people using psychoactive plant substances. They were taking drugs and having a hallucinogenic experience."
If that wasn't enough, the mazes at Chavin de Huantar also include air ducts that use sunlight to produce distorted shadows of the maze's human participants. And sound waves from giant marine shells found in the maze in 2001 may have produced a frequency that actually rattled the eyeballs of those San Pedro cactus-using ancients, Kolar said.“
For more background and technical information, look here:
Convolution-Scattering Model for Staircase Echoes at the Temple of Kukulcan
The Acoustics of Mayan Temples
A Full Simulation of the Quetzal echo at the Mayan pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza in Mexico