History

The Acoustics of Stonehenge

A 1:12 scale model of Stonehenge inside a semi-anechoic chamber for acoustic measurements.

Stonehenge has long been an astronomical wonder, but did you know it’s an aural wonder as well? A team of acoustic engineers and an archaeologist constructed and tested a 1:12 scale model of the monument as it existed around 2200 B.C. Their model included 157 3D-printed stones (which took about nine months to print!), carefully engineered to reflect ultrasonic frequencies the way the full-size Stonehenge reflects frequencies in our auditory range. (Using the higher frequency sound at a smaller physical scale allows engineers to match the physics of the real henge.)

The team found that the stones of the henge amplified sound by about 4 decibels, enough to make a speaker’s voice easy to hear, even when facing a different direction. The structure also provided some reverberation that would enhance musical instruments or singing. Stonehenge had reverberation levels similar to a modern-day large movie theater, which is absolutely incredible for a prehistoric structure constructed in the open air.

For more interesting details on the model’s construction and testing, check out this article at Physics Today. (Image and research credit: T. Cox et al.)

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