Roughly 5,000 years ago, a group of people, for some reason, dragged massive stones 140 miles from Wales to Wiltshire, England, arranging them in a series of concentric circles to create Stonehenge. For years, we've been trying to figure out what was remarkable enough about these rocks to make the long-distance journey worth the effort—particularly the massive bluestones, which at ten feet long and weighing four tons, must have been truly special to justify bringing them all that way.
The bluestones ‘sing’ when they are hit, resonating with an apparently unique twang that does not appear to reach the same pitch or musical note as other stones which merely ‘thud’.
Some previous theories surrounding Stonehenge’s sonic qualities – the way the stone circle would have captured and reverberated sound – had been rather dismissed by the experts concentrating on astronomy and landscape, but the new study appears to reinforce the importance of sound, and the sonic qualities of the stones themselves.
“We found it was a noteworthy soundscape, with a significant percentage of the actual rocks making metallic sounds like bells, gongs, tin drums, etc, when tapped with small, handheld ‘hammerstones’,” said Paul Devereux, the study’s co-leader, a research associate at the college and an expert in archaeo-acoustics.
Recent research has rewritten somewhat the story of the stones, with geologists tracking their origin not to the traditional site of Carn Menyn, where the acoustic researchers did their study, but to the nearly Carn Goedog. Both regions, however, are still part of the larger geological feature that is the Mynydd Prescelly, or the Preseli Hills.
Stonehenge may have been a place of healing, or a celebration of the solstice, or both and more. But “if you’re building a monument,” says Robinson Meyer for the Atlantic, “ why not build it out of stones that speak?”