Projects

ARCHAEOACOUSTICS – PRELIMINARY PROJECT DESCRIPTION

SUMMER 2011    Building on prior investigations, a multi-disciplinary team has been assembled to:

 1.) examine what happens in the human brain in an environment of naturally produced sound in the frequency range that produces resonant standing waves in subterranean stone chambers, and

2) shed light on the influence of sound behavior in the design development, on the Mediterranean islands of Malta, of the world’s first monumental architecture.
Preliminary research in the field of Archeoacoustics has shown that Newgrange and other ancient stone chambers resonate within a narrow range of sound wave frequency between 90 and 120 hz[1]. According to a laboratory study, exposure to a tone within this frequency, particularly at 110-111 hz seems to create a shift of brain function, “turning on” an area of the brain that bio-behavioral scientists believe relates to mood, empathy and social behavior.

Malta’s subterranean Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum, architecturally intact after five thousand years, is known to have eerie sound effects.  This site’s architectural features not only mirror the above-ground megalithic temples, but also imply a primitive understanding of acoustic behavior.  A room in the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum known popularly as “the Oracle Chamber” has been show to have its strongest resonance at 110 hz.  Could this natural bio-behavioral phenomenon lend weight to the theory that the development of monumental architecture may actually have been prompted by a desire to manipulate sound effects in a ritual context? Can such remote antiquity have new relevance for modern behavior studies?

The ultimate desire of the team is to outfit a number of volunteers of various ages with portable equipment, including EEG, blood pressure and skin temperature measurement devices.  We would collect a series of EEG scans of healthy brain activity and other biofeedback while on site in the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum with exposure to voice at a range of sound frequencies that includes 110 or 111 Hz  for a duration of approximately 5 minutes.

Laboratory testing will be undertaken at the University of Malta to augment the findings of the previous brain function study.

A music expert would direct the generation of sound from a male baritone in extended vocalizing.  A natural shell horn may also be tested, based on personal accounts of previous highly unusual sound generation by this means in the Hypogeum.  A sound engineer would monitor and confirm the frequency levels electronically.  An architect would evaluate the acoustic physicality of the space.

All input would be coordinated and documented for study and analysis by specialists in neurology and biofeedback.   The on-site readings would be monitored, coordinated and studied using technical signal analysis tools to determine any physical effect of exposure in actual conditions that were possible in prehistory, and if the replication of such effect might have a modern therapeutic application.

Testing in other subterranean sites in Malta and Gozo such as a bomb shelter, church crypt, catacombs, etc.  may bring fresh dimension to the project.

The research team is comprised primarily from a variety of departments at the University of Malta and assembled under the umbrella of the Mediterranean Institute of Ancient Civilizations, a newly formed international research initiative.  As directed by Heritage Malta, volunteers test subjects would most likely be the team members one at a time to remain within the 10 person-per-hour dictates of UNESCO for occupation of the Hypogeum.  All equipment would be portable and non-chemical, requiring only a power source.  So as not to compromise the sensitivity of the site, there would be no need for any special lighting other than the normal computerized rotation, the minimized output of display screens and possibly periodic small flashlights on the equipment to take readings.

Publication is anticipated in the Journal of Mediterranean Studies, a publication of the Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta;  and is invited for submission to the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians