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Between Worlds pp 251-264 | Cite as

Hear Here: Prehistoric Artists Preferentially Selected Reverberant Spaces and Choice of Subject Matter Underscores Ritualistic Use of Sound

  • Steven J. Waller
Chapter

Abstract

Audio measurements reveal that prehistoric rock art was typically placed in caves and canyons with particularly intense echoes, including reverberation mimicking thunder. Sound reflection gives the illusion of a virtual source behind the reflecting surface. In the past, this was perceived as answers emanating from non-corporeal beings dwelling within the rocks, as attested by ancient myths from around the world describing echo spirits. Thunder myths contain thunder god descriptions matching rock art motifs found in reverberating locations: thunderbirds, wide-eyed Tlaloc figures, Lightning Brothers and hoofed animals. Indeed, greater than 90% of European cave art depicts thundering stampedes of ungulates, located in portions of caves where a single clap results in thunderous reverberation sounding like hoofbeats. An acoustical connection with rainmaking rituals is suggested. Together with cultural information contained in myths, the quantitative acoustic data lead to the conclusion that the artists intentionally selected strongly sound-reflecting locations. Thus much rock art may represent manifestations of locally focused ritualistic behaviour expressing global beliefs of acoustic phenomena perceived in spiritual contexts. This acoustic theory harmonises with other rock art theories such as animism, structuralism, hunting magic and weather control. These observations comprise evidence that sound was used ritually in highly reverberant spaces.

Keywords

Echoes Reverberation Thunder gods Spirits Cave paintings Rock art Rainmaking rituals 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven J. Waller
    • 1
  1. 1.Rock Art AcousticsLemon GroveUSA

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