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Haunting Sounds at an Ancient Peruvian Site – ScienceNOW

VANCOUVER — More than three millennia ago, ancient people flocked to Chavín de Huantar, a village in a high valley in the Peruvian Andes, to hear the oracles speak. And indeed they spoke—in the voice of resonant conch shell trumpets, and with the help of some clever architectural design, according to findings presented here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW). The research suggests that the Chavín culture—and perhaps other ancient cultures—knew acoustic tricks that might be the envy of a modern concert hall engineer.

Chavín de Huantar consists of terraces, squares, ornate megaliths, and a temple, and there’s abundant evidence that it was used for religious ceremonies. The site also contains bas-relief sculptures sporting powerful animal imagery, including jaguars, condors, and snakes; images of hallucinogenic plants; and artifacts of the tools used to prepare them for consumption.

Chavín de Huantar is particularly well suited to the study of ancient uses of sound, says Miriam Kolar, an archeoacoustics researcher at Stanford University. That’s because the interior architecture contains elaborate, multilevel mazes with long corridors and staircases that affect acoustics today and are well enough preserved to detect what the original residents must have heard. What’s more, ancient conch shell trumpets have been excavated in the village; when blown into, the shells make a haunting, warbling sound, and fossil conch shells are embedded in stones on the floor of the temple. Kolar played a recording of the conch shell trumpet at the meeting. “It’s not very imposing over loudspeakers,” she said. “But in person it rattles your bones.”

FULL ARTICLE Haunting Sounds at an Ancient Peruvian Site – ScienceNOW.

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