Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Acoustic Rock Art Landscapes: A Comparison between the Acoustics of Three Levantine Rock Art Areas in Mediterranean Spain

Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Acoustic Rock Art Landscapes: A Comparison between the Acoustics of Three Levantine Rock Art Areas in Mediterranean Spain

Article excerpt

Introduction: acoustics and rock art

Rock art research has traditionally focused on the material and visual world, disregarding other aspects that may have been equally or more important for its production and location. This article is framed within the context of a recent trend in the field that seeks to uncover the more intangible aspects of pre-Historic rock art. It focuses on acoustics as a way of hypothesising pre-Historic communities' reasons for making and using rock art.

Despite the relative novelty of research into acoustics in the field of rock art studies, we should acknowledge that the sonority of rock art landscapes was mentioned by a handful of early researchers, although the emphasis on typology and chronology powerfully skewed their attention towards iconography and stylistic dating. Because of this, their comments on the auditory properties of the sites were always made in passing and they never considered this singularity as crucial for the production of the art (Arco 1917; Pager 1971). At that time archaeologists dealing with pre-Historic 'art' remained unaware of the information coming from anthropological literature, which connected rock art and acoustics among contemporary societies such as the Hopi (Talayesva 1942). Unfortunately no authors have attempted to link research into the musical instruments found at pre-Historic sites and the production of parietal art at them (Piette 1874; Passemard 1922; Seewald 1934). This situation only began to change in the 1950s and 60s after the discovery of rock gongs in Africa (Fagg 1957; Lanning 1958). This immediately preceded the studies of lithophones in Upper Palaeolithic caves with rock art undertaken by André Glory (Glory 1964, 1965; Glory et al. 1965). Although the literature makes no mention of it, we suspect that Fagg and Glory's studies may be connected, as they had met at the first two Pan-African Congresses of Archaeology1. Sadly, Glory's work was cut short by his untimely death in 1966 and a temporary revival of interest in the mid-1980s (Dams 1984, 1985) was short-lived.

Current research into acoustics and rock art has its roots in the work of a music specialist, Iégor Reznikoff, and a Palaeolithic specialist, Michel Dauvois (Reznikoff and Dauvois 1988; Dauvois 1989). As with Glory and Dams, their initial interest was in Palaeolithic 'art', although they differed in their approach, as they investigated the acoustics of the space where the art had been produced, studying echoes, resonance and tonality. Reznikoff and another researcher who had taken some measurements at Upper Palaeolithic art sites, Steve Waller, were the first to realise that art from other periods and chronologies could also be worth studying from the point of view of acoustics (Dayton 1992; Waller 1993; Reznikoff 1995; Waller et al. 1999: see also Ouzman 2001). Waller also innovated in the field by focusing on the iconography of rock art. Since the mid-1990s many other researchers have added their work to this expanding field of research. Among the latest work published we find studies not only of rock art (Rifkin 2009; Mazel 2011; Garfinkel and Waller 2012; Lahelma 2012; Williams 2012), but also of megalithic art and architecture (Watson 2006; Till 2009). There have also been new research into musical instruments (Higham et al. 2012) and novel experimental studies with them (Buisson and Dartiguepeyrou 1996; Dauvois 2005; Conard et al. 2009).

This article aims to test whether Levantine rock art in Spain was located in places with good acoustics, comparing three different rock art landscapes. The Levantine rock art tradition is dated to the Epipalaeolithic/ Mesolithic/Neolithic2 period, and paintings have been 'dated' from 8000 to 4000 BCE on the basis of superimpositions and stylistic comparisons (Viñas 2012: 75-78). Levantine art is characterised by motifs representing naturalistic animals and stylised humans, often composing scenes painted on hilly landscapes (García Arranz et al. …

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