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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Scarre, Chris (2018). Songs of the shamans? Acoustical studies in European prehistory. In Lands of the Shamans: archaeology, landscape and cosmology. Gheorghiu, Dragoş, Bender, Herman, Nash, George & Pasztor, Emilia Oxbow Books.

Author(s) from Durham


Sound is one of the lost dimensions of the prehistoric and early historic past. In recent years, multisensory approaches have sought new ways of addressing this deficiency, moving beyond those developed by music archaeologists to consider not the sound producers (instruments) but the spaces in which sound and “music” may have played a particular important role. This has included analyses of Palaeolithic painted caves and Neolithic chambered tombs and stone circles. The otherworldly significance of special sounds is well attested by ethnographic studies. The transfer of such a general perspective onto mute prehistoric structures is however methodologically challenging. This chapter briefly reviews recent work in this field and argues that close attention to the archaeological evidence may sometimes be effective in constraining the range of possible scenarios. Whether music was used to induce altered states of consciousness or heighten awareness among participants within these ceremonial structures, however, remains open to question.