Archeoacoustics and Ancient Architecture: Megaliths, Music and the Mind

(ORDO NEWS) — Isn’t it amazing that for hundreds of thousands of years, all mankind lived the same way everywhere on Earth.

Back then, we were all indigenous, living close to the land, mostly concerned with meeting the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, social responsibility, peaceful relations with the forces of nature, and personal safety from disasters.

We have developed languages ​​and other ways of communicating with each other. We mastered the fire and were smart.

As time went by, Homo sapiens species got better and better with our stone tools, spears and sewing needles. What a brilliant idea it was! Fashion began with the first sewing needle.

And to think that this ingenious idea came to the mind of a variety of people, scattered over time and distance. Can textiles be far behind? In any case, this is how we lived or something like this for a huge period of time… until something changed.

Development of the agricultural revolution

Modern sources continue to argue that it was the advent of agriculture that began the revolution that led to a settled way of life and opened the way for the development of civilization. This simplified explanation is somewhat untrue.

When archaeologist Klaus Schmidt began excavating Göbekli Tepe in the mid-1990s, it became undeniable that the events that gave rise to Western civilization started somewhere else.

Agriculture originated at different times in different parts of the world. Here the initial scenario is considered, the one that influenced the future of Western humanity and, accordingly, the planet.

The roots of the first farmers lie in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, in an area called the Fertile Crescent.

The ancestors of most of our domestic animals – cattle, goats, sheep, pigs – come from the same area in southeastern Turkey between about 8,000 and 10,500 years ago. The genetic origin of cultivated cereals such as bread wheat and barley is in the same area.

Where archaeologists find ancient barley, they usually find evidence of beer making, including at Göbekli Tepe. Indigenous peoples around the world discovered and mastered the fermentation technique.

People are people, so it’s not surprising that songs and music were accompanied by the consumption of fermented drinks.

Origins of universal vocal music

Music is considered a universal culture. Every known society participates in it. Most cultures have their own mythical origins for the invention of music, usually rooted in their respective mythological, religious, or philosophical beliefs. Bone flutes found in caves and dated to 40,000 years ago testify to an early beginning.

Although Charles Darwin was sure that we sang before we spoke, the question of which came first – the song or the language – is debatable and should not be expected to ever be resolved.

About a million years ago, the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans possessed the vocal anatomy necessary for singing, but we cannot know if this was the case.

World-class tenor Joseph Calleja explains that opera is the expression of emotions that are so great that they simply need to be sung. Anyone who has watched kids in a noisy hallway knows that sometimes a place can just force a person to vocalize.

The prehistoric period was a time when knowledge, memory and cultural identity were preserved in oral traditions – mainly in songs, because the structure of a song keeps the story more or less the same every time it is told.

It will not be preserved if it is not told correctly. Like indigenous peoples around the world, in those days a good evening was considered an evening when the whole community gathered around a fire to listen to someone sing a good story. Most likely, it had an important message.

In fact, everything that was important to know was in a form that required hearing. Survival depended on it. In the absence of industrial and automobile noise, their hearing was probably much sharper than ours.

Seeds of civilization before agriculture

Agriculture didn’t come about as a result of a group of late Stone Age people sitting together drinking beer one night and deciding, “Hey, listen, let’s plant crops here, because it makes life easier.”

Long before the development of agriculture, they were engaged in something that became more important to them than hunting and gathering.

After the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago, one of them did have an idea. Fully developed and successful for hundreds of millennia, the nomadic tribes of this area differed from all other indigenous peoples of that time throughout the Earth, having accomplished something unprecedented. What did they do? They built the world’s first megalithic monuments.

At one remarkable moment, the first architect of mankind thought about how to really plan and create an original ritual and ceremonial space. What is needed for this? First of all, great organizational skills.

While the men were engaged in the extraction of stone, the formation, movement and decoration of huge boulders, they did not hunt. Of course, it was necessary to figure out how to feed everyone.

We can assume that staying in the same area for a long time, necessary for building, would facilitate the process of cultivating and domesticating what lived and grew nearby.

So here’s the big question: Why, after an almost incomprehensibly long period of life leaving no trace on the planet, did humanity begin to build monuments from stone? Maybe it has something to do with how great their music sounded?

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Were the stone monuments of Göbekli Tepe built to create an environment conducive to sound perception?

The Search for Archeoacoustic Foundations: Stone Monuments and Sound

The interdisciplinary study of archeoacoustics aims to study the human experience of music or “special sound” in ancient ritual and ceremonial spaces.

The OTS Neolithic Research Foundation has held conferences on this topic in Malta, Turkey and Portugal, the materials of which provide an opportunity to get acquainted with various approaches to this issue.

Studying the Paleolithic painted caves of France and Spain, musical anthropologist Yegor Reznikoff quickly discovered that the places where animals were depicted corresponded to those parts of the caves that have the strongest echoes.

Scientists don’t know exactly when Homo sapiens developed the ability to think abstractly, but here it is 40,000 years ago: a depiction of something that is not directly in the artist’s field of vision.

Reznikoff further suggests a possible connection between ancient sanctuaries and oral traditions found elsewhere and much later in time:

“… we have Sumerian or Egyptian inscriptions that mention the singing of the Unseen, especially in connection with death and a second life.” (Reznikoff, I., 2014)

Why shouldn’t the sound also be part of the image? Of course, the beast spirit was not silent in places like the Lascaux caves. No. It was impossible not to notice that the sound behavior inside the cave was very different from what was in the open air, where people spent most of their lives.

How did the people of that time interpret it? We would like to know! Hollywood gives us a clue. In movies, the voice of God is almost always accompanied by an echo. It must be part of the director’s rules: if you want to get something otherworldly, add echo to it.

This ability to think abstractly was more important than it seems at first glance. It was an essential part of the architectural visualization needed to design the monumental spaces that would come later.

Perhaps this is because the part of the brain that processes the placement of notes in a melody also processes objects in three dimensions.

Contrary to popular belief, most Stone Age people didn’t actually live in caves full time. They were nomads who followed wild herds to feed and clothe their families. Hiding in a cave was a seasonal activity, and it was impossible to predict what kind of creatures would take up residence there while the tribe was away.

But it seems likely that some caves had a special attraction as places of rituals, ceremonies, and the production of the sacred music that accompanied them.

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Neuroscience of music

Neuroscience reveals another factor. We all know that certain music can touch deep emotional places within us. Researchers at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins have found that listening to music that gives you goosebumps releases dopamine in the brain.

There are few better ways to create a deep listening experience than to surround it with spiritual fellowship in an unusual context or setting. Human beings love dopamine! The pleasure and reward mechanism it triggers is also related to addiction.

More research is needed to find out if the changes in the brains of these antediluvian Anatolians make a difference in solving the Big Question, but obviously something pushed them forward creatively. Suppose it was the acoustic spiritual experience in the cave that inspired them to create the first building?

An attempt to create a “magical holy place” where they wanted it, not where it was found: make it, decorate it, and control it.

The tribes came from afar when it became known. Big seasonal celebrations, new courtship, beer and feasting, and a divine climax for the ultimate drama. A climax that really changed the chemistry in the brain.

By 12,000 years ago, our mental abilities were what they are today. Any society that could invent sewing needles could observe the environment and notice the physical characteristics of the cave, which produced a good echo.

It so happened that in the Taurus Mountains, not far from Göbekli Tepe, there are thousands of them.

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Stone monuments at Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia, Turkey

Art, songs and archeoacoustics of Göbekli Tepe

Unlike the painted Paleolithic caves, in Göbekli Tepe, the animals are carved into these incredible stone circles.

These structures, clearly identified as sanctuaries, are not suitable for use as dwellings and were never intended to be inhabited. This is evidenced by the symmetry of the design and the fact that they were not easy to build.

Although deliberately buried and hidden after some time, the shrines were built to last. The floors were smooth, the stone walls were plastered, and architectural features indicate that they were roofed during use.

Fine carvings in limestone would not last long under the influence of rain and wind. Under such circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that there was an echo in these rooms, as in a modern concrete underpass. It’s a simple matter of physics: vibration, solid surfaces and their composition.

For the people of that time, entering one of the completed shrines must have been an extraordinary experience. It was not a rough cave. It was something for which a new word had to be invented, because there was nothing like it on Earth yet.

Göbekli Tepe did not fall out of space. There are many similar structures in the area that have yet to be excavated.

Some of them are even slightly older than Göbekli Tepe, showing a learning process that has led to the magnificent expression of spaces such as the “D building” of Göbekli Tepe with its double anthropomorphic columns that have survived to this day, three human heights, a foot to the leg.

During the excavation, Dr. Schmidt noticed that one of these columns makes a ringing sound when it is struck with a hand.

What happened on these plains of Anatolia was no accident. Something very compelling was driving the enormous investment of time and labor that went into making something revolutionary while the rest of the planet’s population was living their normal lives.

It seems the builders quickly realized that curved and concave surfaces were part of the requirement to maximize the acoustic effect. It was a knowledge that did not disappear, as evidenced by the amphitheaters of the ancient Greeks and the arenas of the Colosseum by the Romans.

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Sanctuary at Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia, Turkey

Origins of ancient archeoacoustic builders

“Researchers now believe they have pinpointed where the first farmers spread to Europe 8,000 years ago came from Anatolia in Turkey,” the Daily Mail reported in 2016. Then in 2019, BBC News, citing DNA research, reported that the builders of Stonehenge were descended from people who lived in Anatolia.

Thanks to the advances in the science of genetics, it is now known that there were several waves of migration from the part of the world where the societies of Göbekli Tepe were located.

Yes, the first farmers to settle in Europe and assimilate with the existing hunter-gatherers came from Anatolia, no longer the natives they used to be, but more advanced and sophisticated newcomers.

All signs point to happy mixing, sharing any genetic changes in the brain, along with adult lactose tolerance and blue eyes.

These migrations settled territories that historically facilitated the movement of people to places such as North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other places in between. So maybe we’re not such distant strangers anymore.

The settlers brought with them not only their plants, livestock and agricultural lifestyle, but also cultural traditions.

The groups following the Danube appear to have built their monuments from wood, of which little remains. The groups that left Anatolia via the Mediterranean brought with them the knowledge needed to build megaliths.

Although the structures are often on a smaller scale, surviving stone monuments stretch from Ireland to England, France, Portugal, Spain, Sardinia and Malta – with its mother house of megalithic buildings and penultimate archeoacoustic marvel – the hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, as well as to Greece and Cyprus.

From an architectural point of view, these objects are a succession of wide, symmetrical exterior façades that extend welcoming arms towards the front platforms and gathering areas; effective acoustic amplification for performances or the address of a spiritual leader.

Could ancient mounds with closed corridors function as resonator megaliths for some special events outside?

Even small closed “tombs” are equipped with perforated communicating “window” stones that connect the interior to the outside courtyard space. This feature is found in the great Maltese sites and also in Göbekli Tepe.

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Reconstructed fresco from Çatalhöyuk

At the time of the migrations, the Neolithic settlement of Çatalhoyuk was in full bloom, not far from Göbekli Tepe. Although no monuments have yet been found there, the site is an invaluable bridge in understanding the transition to a sedentary lifestyle.

The fresco, made by the inhabitants of Çatalhöyuk, confirms a joyful interest in music and dance, emphasizing that Neolithic life had a sound dimension from the very beginning. Looking closely, some artifacts from Göbekli Tepe itself also point to sound consciousness.

Just 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Göbekli Tepe, and probably earlier than it, is the recently discovered site of Karahantepe. As in the Maltese hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, one chamber was carved into the limestone rock.

In addition to the columns carved on the spot, a mysterious head protrudes from the top of the curved wall. His mouth is open and the Adam’s apple is high in his throat. If I were a Neolithic artist who was going to depict a messenger communicating with the other world, then this would be him.

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In Karahantep, there is a mysterious head protruding from the top of a curved wall

We come back to the big “if”. The sound leaves no archaeological traces. How can we prove that people in prehistoric times were motivated by a goosebump sound, even if we see that they made fantastic efforts to create an environment in which it could be easily reproduced? We will never prove it, but it certainly converges.

We now understand that when they assembled these stone chambers for ritual use, an acoustic environment was created. We know that some sort of music or intentional sound has been part of the ritual of every society.

We know that certain sounds in these ancient rooms may have caused chemical changes in the brains of the people who used them. Until now, there has been no better explanation of the entire sequence of development that began with the construction of stone monuments.


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