The Royal College of Art in London has been spending months tapping stones in the Preseli Hills, the source area of some of the stones used in Stonehenge, to see if these stones have ‘musical’ qualities.
After striking 1,000 rocks in Carn Menyn in the Preseli Hills in Wales, the researchers have found that the bluestones ‘sing’ when they are hit, resonating with an apparently unique twang that does not appear to reach the same pitch or musical note as other stones which make a thud noise.
Paul Devereux, the study’s co-leader, says: ‘We found a significant percentage of the actual rocks making metallic sounds like bells, gongs, tin drums when tapped with small handheld ‘hammers’.’
Speaking recently on BBC Radio 5, Devereux explains: ‘It’s not the sound you expect on rock on rock. It’s called a ‘ringing rock’ and there are a large number of them up on Carn Menyn, which is the source area of some of the stones which are now standing in Stonehenge.’
‘We don’t know exactly what happened in Neolithic Britain but we do know that such rocks would have been very important in other parts of the ancient world, in China for example,’ says Devereux. ‘In India ringing rocks were embedded in temples that could give you the whole range of basic notes of Indian classical music from a single rock.’
As part of the research, last year English Heritage allowed archaeologists from Bournemouth and Bristol Universities to test the bluestones at Stonehenge where they found different sounds from different places on the same stones.
Devereux, a research associate of the RCA, is currently working on a book, Drums of Stone, which will tell the full story of musical rocks in ancient and traditional cultures.
Other research by American archaeoacoustic expert Steven Waller, has looked at how the layout of Stonehenge might be related to how the monument’s ancient designers perceived the behaviour of sound-waves.
To hear the stones ‘singing’ click here.