Dr. Rupert Till of the University of Huddersfield has created a new film using computer modelling of Stonehenge. Based on an old laser scan from English Heritage from 1993/4, computer modelling has been used to try to create an experimental reconstruction of what it might have been like to be at Stonehenge thousands of years ago. A high power computing array of processors was used to render the images, which as source files were about 200GB of data. Sound was then added using digital acoustic models generated using Odeon architectural acoustics modelling software.

In the film you are walking up the hill towards Stonehenge (the model was placed on accurate LIDAR ground data), which appears over the crest of the hill. It is sunset on the winter solstice. You slowly walk towards and into the centre of the stone circle. You can hear the sound of percussion in the space. The tempo of the music is set by echoes that are present. You might also hear a whistle or flute, this is a reconstruction of the Wilsford flute, a bone flute found near Stonehenge in the Wilsford shaft. The original was made when Stonehenge was in use in prehistory. You might, if you are wearing headphones or using good loudspeakers) hear a low pitched hum. When the wind blows hard, you may hear at Stonehenge, even today, a low pitched hum at 47Hz, the result of the co-inidence of an on- and off-axis circular mode of resonance.

Having entered the circle, you leave your body and fly around the site. TIme moves forward so you can see the effect of shadows in the space. The film fades between different possible phasing and organisation of the site, the inner bluestones disappearing, then all the bluestones going, then the sarsen stones leaving to be replaced by bluestones in the Aubrey holes. Eventually you return to the centre of the stone circle and leave the way you came.

This is intended to be a phenomenological experience, an experimental reconstruction, a suggestion of what it might have been like to be at Stonehenge in prehistory. It cannot hope to be exactly accurate, but can at least open a short window into the past.

Stonehenge is famously aligned to the sunrise on the mid-summer solstice. However there is more archaeological evidence that in prehistoric Britain, people gathered at Stonehenge at sunset to celebrate the shortest day of the year, after which everything gets lighter and warmer, on the winter solstice. People often think of the winter solstice as being 21st December, however it varies between the 20th and the 23rd depending on the motion of the Earth and whether it is a leap year or not. This year English heritage will provide open access to Stonehenge on the 22nd December. The trouble is, it is often not possible to watch the sun setting from inside the stones for a number of reasons. It is often cloudy, and there are often thousands of people all trying to get inside the stone circle at sunset. Also of course, half the stones at Stonehenge are missing or fallen, compared to the prehistoric version of the site. Add to this parking problems, and the cold of the exposed countryside, and one might wonder if there were a warmer way to experience the solstice at Stonehenge.

Interactive iphone app developers Ribui, working with Researchers at the University of Huddersfield, have come up with an intriguing alternative. They have produced an iphone app that you can download, that includes models of Stonehenge. A computer model of the site has been created which allows you to see what the site would have looked like in prehistory. Advanced digital modelling has been used to provide an accurate reconstruction, an interpretation of what it may have been like to be at Stonehenge in prehistory. If you are actually at Stonehenge, the app uses Augmented Reality (AR) to work out where you are standing, and when you hold up your phone, it shows you what the site would have looked like, from your exact position, but as if you were there thousands of years ago.

You can navigate interactively around the site, and explore it at will, without seeing fences or paths, allowing the user to fly over the top of the site, or zoom towards it. You can also see how the site developed over the years, how different arrangements of the stones were set up, drawing on the latest archaeological research. You can even stand virtually in the middle of the stones, and as you move your phone around, you can look around, with no other people present, and with all the stones intact and upright. At the same time you can put headphones in your ears, and hear how the echoes from the stone surfaces would have affected your voice.

The computer model was originally created by project leader Dr. Rupert Till at the University of Huddersfield, in order to carry out acoustic analysis of the site, using architectural software. However, as the model produced by Dr. Ertu Unver and Andrew Taylor looked very accurate, the project decided to create multimedia files that reconstructed Stonehenge virtually. Commercial company Ribui, approached the University to develop the model into an interactive iphone app, and the final result is now released to the public.

Smartphone apps offer a way to explore heritage sites like Stonehenge from anywhere, and also provide information to visitors to the site, as they are walking around it. This app also features a model of the wooden circle at nearby Woodhenge, as well as information on other sites related to Stonehenge, like Durrington Walls, the Cursus and the so-called Bluestonehenge. It also allows one to dig out other archaeological finds on your iphone, and see and hear information about the archaeology of the whole surrounding landscape.

Project leader at the University of Huddersfield Dr. Rupert Till told us, ‘the interaction of Science and Heritage, and the use of digital interactive tools in this way, allows someone anywhere in the world to connect with the thousands of years old tradition of people traveling to Stonehenge, especially on the winter solstice. People have always gone to Stonehenge to connect with the ancestors, to connect with the past, but also to look forward on the shortest day to a sunnier future. They want to celebrate the return of the Sun, the ultimate source of power and light for our world, as we know we are at the darkest point of the year, but that things will look a little brighter from now on. It’s a place of ritual and spirituality, and we hope that this app will help people understand and appreciate Stonehenge in a different way, offering a window into the past, as well as an experience that can bring optimism for the future.’

The Stonehenge Experience app is available on the Apple App Store


Click here for the app’s website

Click here for a Daily Mail article

Click here for New Scientist article

Click here for app of the day



Hearing the Past through our ancestors’ ears

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the whole programme

BBC Radio 4,

11 am, Monday September 12th, 2011. 

Imagine being able to eavesdrop on the sound of a ritual at Stonehenge four thousand years ago, or hear singing in the original Coventry Cathedral before it was bombed in 1940.

Broadcaster and Physicist, Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates how latest research in acoustics is helping us to recreate authentic sounds of the past. It is changing the way we study history and experience tourist attractions. It is also helping us to improve the acoustic design of future buildings.

Jim discovers how architects of modern concert venues are learning lessons from the layout of Stonehenge. He also finds out how acoustic design goes far beyond just making our buildings sound good, in some cases it can save lives.

The research is bringing together a diverse group of scientists, engineers, sound archivists, museum curators and sound artists.

The initial project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This included the Acoustics and Music of British Prehistory Research Network described at http://AMBPNetwork.wordpress.com

‘Hearing the Past’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11 am on Monday September 12th. The programme will also be available via the Radio 4 website (bbc.co.uk/radio4). The programme has also been selected as BBC Radio 4’s Documentary of the Week.

The Producer of the programme is Jane Reck.

Notes for Editors:

Contributors to the programme:

Dr Rupert Till, from the University of Huddersfield. Rupert works in the area of ‘archaeo-acoustics’, which concentrates on the sound of a site and how it would have been used in the past. He describes how he has been able to recreate the sound of a ritual at Stonehenge four thousand years ago. He also explains how the site’s acoustics are inspiring the design of modern outdoor concert venues.

Dr Damian Murphy, from the University of York. He is involved in acoustically recreating the sound of Coventry Cathedral before it was bombed in 1940.

Joe Savage, a curator at the National Railway Museum in York.  Joe is interested in the use of acoustics in a museum or heritage setting. The NRM is currently re-developing its station hall area and wants to make use of latest research into acoustics. They are planning to show visitors how a railway station operates twenty four hours a day and how that working pattern has changed over time.

Sebastien Jouan, an acoustic designer. Sebastien works for Arup, a global firm of designers, engineers, planners and building consultants. He explains how studying the acoustics of sites such as Stonehenge and pre-1940 Coventry Cathedral can help us design better sounding buildings from concert halls and airport terminals to schools, hospital operating theatres, homes and offices. Sebastien will also demonstrate, through recorded sounds how improving acoustics in public places can also save lives in emergency situations.

Richard Ranft, Head of the Sound Archive at the British Library in London. This is an invaluable source of recordings for museums and historic sites. Richard is also keen to encourage people to record sounds of the world around them now before we lose them forever.

Sound Artists Louise K. Wilson (based at the University of Huddersfield) and David Chapman. Their work has centred on the Falkland estate in Fife, sourcing and collecting historic sounds associated with this former royal hunting park

There is a concert on Friday 27th May in Edinburgh featuring multimedia, music, and live performances that explore the relationships between music and prehistory.

Full details at: http://palaeophonics.co.uk/

and http://palaeophonics.co.uk/stonehenge-ritual-sound/

This will includes a short digital film by Rupert Till, Andrew Taylor and Ertu Unver which features high quality renderings of a 3D model of Stonehenge, as it may have looked in prehistory. It also includes a soundtrack that recreates the sound of the space as one approaches it. The model is placed on accurate LIDAR laser scan ground data.

BAR 504 2009: The Sounds of Stonehenge Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth. CHOMBEC Working Papers No. 1 edited by Stephen Banfield. ISBN 9781407306308. £31.00. vi+80 pages; illustrated throughout with maps, plans, figures, tables, photographs, 4 colour plates.

The Sounds of Stonehenge originated as a workshop of the Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth (CHOMBEC), held at the Victoria Rooms, University of Bristol, UK in November 2008. The 8 papers contain material pertaining to acoustic physics, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, cognitive psychology, English literature, film studies, history, history of art, media and popular studies, musicology, sociology, and creative composition. Contents: 1) The sounds of Stonehenge: some notes on an acoustic archaeology (Joshua Pollard ); 2) New art – ancient craft: making music for the monuments (John Crewdson and Aaron Watson); 3) Soul music: instruments in an animistic age (Simon Wyatt); 4) Songs of the stones: the acoustics of Stonehenge (Rupert Till); 5) The cultural history of Stonehenge (Ronald Hutton); 6) Megaliths in English art music (Stephen Banfield); 7) Stonehenge and its film music (Guido Heldt); 8) Stonehenge in rock (Timothy Darvill).

Pioneer Podcast – Sounds of the past & future from EPSRC on Vimeo.

This site explores the acoustics, sounds and music of Stonehenge.

Who would have thought that one of the most studied archaeological sites in the UK would still have secrets hidden in plain view? However most previous studies of Stonehenge focused on looking at the site, rather than listening to it.

Music technologist and composer Dr Rupert Till started to ponder the likely acoustic effects of Stonehenge after finding a pilot study on the subject. He came up with the theory that the famous ring of stone could have sung like a crystal wine glass with a wet finger rubbing the rim, stimulated in this case by percussion played in time to the echoes of the space.

Thomas Hardy had hinted at this in 1891 in his novel Tess of the D’Urbavilles. Reading carefully between the lines with an acoustician’s ear, one can find him discussing various acoustic effects. Further research turned up an interview with the author in which he states that ‘if a gale of wind is blowing, the strange musical hum emitted by Stonehenge can never be forgotten’.

Mathematical acoustic analysis of Stonehenge’s Archaeological plans was followed by the acoustic analysis of a digital model of Stonehenge using software designed for architects’ use. The results of this analysis exceeded all expectations. The final stage of Stonehenge had acoustic figures that were as good as premier concert halls, and was perfectly suited to loud rhythmic music, much like a rock concert venue.

This work led to a visit to a full size concrete reproduction of Stonehenge in the USA, with acoustics expert Dr. Bruno Fazenda and Dr. Till flying to the Maryhill Monument in Washington State to use it as a model to carry out acoustic field measurements and search for evidence of acoustic features. Here it was possible to make the whole space resonate using a simple percussion rhythm, made by reconstructions of Neolithic instruments, and tuned to the space. Strange acoustic effects appeared in the space as if the stones themselves were singing. Dr. Fazenda has been a key research partner in the project, providing a acoustic and scientific grounding to the project.

The Maryhill trip led to 50,000 internet articles on the research, in turn leading to a History Channel Documentary in the MysteryQuest series (currently in post-production), and visits to Stonehenge itself, where echo patterns were found to support the theories.

The project has suggested where people might have stood at Stonehenge, the sort of instruments possibly used, what kind of sounds could have been made and how fast people might have played. It has also allowed tentative steps towards suggesting that the music may have acted to entrain the body, encourage Alpha rhythms in the brain, and help achieve altered states of trance-like consciousness.

Few specifics are known about the music, sound and ritual of prehistoric Britain, and any information that this project can uncover is significant. Stone circles are an enigmatic feature of British prehistory, and the hope is that understanding more about our past is on way of further understanding our present.

This work has led on to Dr. Till leading an AHRC/EPSRC research cluster focused on the acoustics and music of prehistory, a large grant application for further work on other prehistoric sites, collaboration on a TSB scheme to build an outdoor performance venue with similar acoustics and other research opportunities.

[Please note that this is an ongoing project and some of the results are preliminary. Any thoughts or feedback are more than welcome.]