Stonehenge and musical notes

I was helping a friend move over the weekend and actually ended up lifting couches that were almost as heavy as one of the rocks from Stonehenge.  There were two differences between my weekend experience and those of 3500-5000 years ago when the stones for Stonehenge were moved to their current location. One difference was that I was just moving the couch to a truck about 10 feet away (instead of about 200 miles), and the other is that no music was involved when I was doing the heavy lifting.

Actually our ancient Druid ancestors had it easy – they didn’t need to move the rocks up two flights of stairs or, violating the Pythagorean Theorem, move the couches around tight corners.  However, in 3000 BC, the Pythagorean Theorem had not yet been invented so I guess we are even.  Since we are talking history here, the earliest evidence of Druid civilization in England is from about 200 BC so I suspect that Druids had nothing to do with Stonehenge, but it sounds nice to say the word “Druid”.

Oh yes….back to the music statement.  There was no music playing in the moving van, but there may have been music associated with Stonehenge.  Other than that, there would have been no difference.

Well two researchers at the Royal College of Art in London–Jon Wozencroft and Paul Devereux–have been involved since 2007 in the landscape perception project which studies visual and acoustic attributes of everyday life.  It has been known that when hit by a mallet or stick, certain rocks emit a definite tone or set of tones.  These can range from a foghorn-like sound to a clinky high-pitched sound.

The  original home of the rocks of Stonehenge is in the Mynydd Preseli hills, which are about 200 miles from Wiltshire, where they are now located. This has been known for almost a century, but only recently has the exact location been identified. This is the Carn Menyn ridge in north Pembrookshire.

Of the rocks in the Carn Menyn ridge that were examined, about %-10% emitted a tone-like sound when hit.  I haven’t taken chemistry since my second year in university (and at that time we only knew about wind, water, fire, earth, and of course the ubiquitous Aether that surrounds us all). But, as I recall, in order for an stone to resonate there must be a rigid lattice structure- much like a crystal, and this can be as mundane and as common as quartz.

But whatever the chemical and structural makeup of the stone, Wozencroft and Devereux hypothesized that a musical or sound-related feature may be among the very reason(s) why these stones were used.  Stone, in the era of 3000-1600 BC, probably had more meaning than it does today. After all, they were the building blocks of society at that time.  Around the end of the estimated time for the building of Stonehenge (1600 BC), was the beginning of the Northern European Bronze age (1700-500 BC), so metal chimes were not yet in fashion.

The researchers posit that these musical stones may have functioned as an early stone glockenspiel.

The big question is why did our ancestors erect the stone glockenspiel almost 200 miles from the stone quarry? Perhaps they were helping a friend move who lived down there?  Hopefully they were given a case of beer for their efforts!

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.

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