By all accounts, building Stonehenge was bloody hard work, with some of the monument’s enormous stones being transported over 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Wales to Wiltshire using Neolithic pulleys and raw muscle power. However, the ancient architects of this enigmatic landmark have reason to be proud of their efforts, as a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science reveals that the henge boasted some pretty spectacular acoustics.
Led by acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, a team from Salford University have completed the equally impressive task of building a scale model of Stonehenge as it appeared more than 4,000 years ago. While this might not have demanded the same amount of brawn as the original structure did, it certainly required some brains, as the researchers had to recreate all 157 stones that once stood at the site, many of which are no longer there.
Coincidentally (the researchers insist), the 1:12 scale model is exactly the same size as the miniature-sized Stonehenge – a victim of an unfortunate mix-up – featured in the film This is Spinal Tap, and people constantly point this out. "It comes up every time," Cox told Live Science.
To determine Stonehenge’s original configuration, the team used a combination of laser scans from the site and archaeological data, such as the imprints left by stones that once formed part of the henge.
Measuring 45 centimeters (18 inches) tall, the completed model was placed inside an acoustic chamber, and sound recordings were reverberated through it in order to establish what it would have sounded like for those participating in ancient rituals and ceremonies.
However, because of the scale of the model, the frequency of all recordings had to be increased by a factor of 12, pushing them beyond the range of human hearing. Computer modeling was then used to measure how these sound waves behaved as they reverberated through the replica monument, before converting them back into audible sounds.
“If you were to talk in a cinema, that is probably roughly the acoustic we are getting,” Cox told The Guardian lats year. “If you were going to hold a ceremony, and you had a lot of people to talk to, doing it outside the stones would be a lot harder than if you did it inside the stones [circle].”
Stonehenge is thought to have been built in stages, with different tribes and cultures developing the monument at different times. While this latest research helps to bring the ancient structure back to life, many questions still remain over what exactly it was used for.
Theories regarding the purpose of Stonehenge are varied, with some believing it was a Druid temple, others claiming it was a coronation site for Nordic royalty, and others still considering it to be an ancient astrological atlas that was used to calculate the movement of celestial objects.
Whatever it was used for, at least we now know that Stonehenge had Surround Sound.
This article was originally published in July 2019 and has been updated to include the published study.