Scholars' Association News
Issue 30
May 2014

03/04


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Sound Archaeology: an occasion for an interdisciplinary partnership
By Esther Lemi

Although this text refers to the first International Multidisciplinary Conference on Archaeoacoustics which took place at the Castle of the Knights, Malta, on 19-22 February 2014, it is not intended to highlight the scientific significance of the first international conference on “Acoustics in antiquity”. A friendship between two scholars studying in different disciplines which was triggered by a common interest in the archaeology of sound, and which developed during the Scholars’ Association trip to Aegina last summer, has lead to a successful cooperation between them.

Mary Gikaki conducted her PhD in Archaeology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany with a scholarship from the Onassis Foundation, and is now reaping the rewards of all her hard work. During our trip to Aegina last June, we started working together on a rather daring topic, since the sources are both limited and hard to find; a comprehensive study of the Lighthouse of Alexandria as a total work of art. I had just published by first book on “total artwork”, a topic I had explored in my thesis (Faculty of Music Studies, Athens University) and which still interests me, and we decided to broaden our horizons by sharing our knowledge and expanding our fields of knowledge.

On Saturday, 22 February 2014, this paper was warmly applauded by the scientists attending the Conference on Archaeoacoustics in Malta. The conference took an interdisciplinary approach to all the topics presented by a host of experts from the fields of Music, Sociology, Architecture, Medicine, Archaeology, Psychology and Anthropology. The principal question posed by the conference was whether people in ancient times had attempted to control sound and, if so, in what way and for what purpose.

What particularly stood out were the talks on a bone flute dating back to the Neanderthal era, a novel interpretation of Stonehenge, the study of acoustics in medieval temples in India, the relationship between sound and prehistoric cave paintings in Europe, as well as sound and its use in initiation ceremonies in indigenous communities of the Amazon in Brazil. Equally impressive was the presentation given by anthropologist Ezra Zubrow and psychologist Torill Cristina Lindstrom on the use of acoustic stimuli to generate feelings of fear and awe, and how sound was used to ensure obedience in various types of ceremonies throughout human history.

The conference also offered considerable hands-on experience: divided into groups, the participants visited the remarkable megalithic temples, which have survived in different parts of the country, and experimented for hours with their acoustics. The findings were presented and discussed, often amazing even the most seasoned researchers. The highlight of the conference was when all attendees chanted within the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, the so-called “Hypogeum” of Malta (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a subterranean structure consisting of three 500m2 levels, in its present condition, with an impressive sequence of passages and rooms hewn into the rock) and realised the acoustic potential of the main chamber.

The conference was also attended by the “father” of Audiology, Iegor Reznikoff, Professor Emeritus at Paris Ouest University. Professor Reznikoff, a pioneer in studying the meaning of sound in ancient caves where human presence has been detected, has proven that the most resonant places in caves were those where the paintings were found. During the conference, he presented some recordings of his most impressive experiments.

Greece was also represented at the event, not just by us but also by archaeologists Panagiota Avgerinou and Stella Dreni who offered some penetrating insights into the Eleusinian Mysteries, and archaeologist-musician Nektarios Gioutsos with a comprehensive examination of the worship of Pan and the Nymphs involving events in caves which would definitely have had distinctive acoustic features too. The conference was organised by The Old Temples Study Foundation (OTSF), which is based in Florida, USA, and Malta. One of its principal objectives is to study and promote the megalithic temples of this Mediterranean island, which date back to the Neolithic Era. The minutes of the Archaeoacoustics conference are expected to be released in the summer of 2014.

According to Mary Ghikaki, “The Lighthouse of Alexandria is a leading monument of art in world history that was rather innovative in terms of technology. The next step in our research would be to experiment with the impression sound would cause to the then landscape.” To present our research, we collaborated with COM.ODD.OR. This is our second cooperation after my speech at the Onassis Cultural Centre entitled “The embodied line” as part of the “Body in Crisis” event held in November 2012. Sofi Papadopoulou and Dionysis Sidirokastritis are the figures behind these Latin initials; another friendship that originated at the Athens School of Fine Arts which is strongly positioned to protect and foster the creative self of a weighty civilisation.

We would like to thank the Onassis Foundation for its contribution.

You can find more information about the conference at: www.archaeoacoustics.org

(Esther Lemi holds a doctorate in Musicology and is an Onassis scholar for her postgraduate studies in Art in Berlin).


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