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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Fazenda, Bruno, Scarre, Chris, Till, Rupert, Jiménez Pasalodos, Raquel, Rojo Guerra, Manuel, Tejedor, Cristina, Ontañón Peredo, Roberto, Watson, Aaron, Wyatt, Simon, García Benito, Carlos, Drinkall, Helen & Foulds, Frederick (2017). Cave acoustics in prehistory: exploring the association of Palaeolithic visual motifs and acoustic response. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 142(3): 1332-1349.

Author(s) from Durham


During the 1980s, acoustic studies of Upper Palaeolithic imagery in French caves—using the
technology then available—suggested a relationship between acoustic response and the location of
visual motifs. This paper presents an investigation, using modern acoustic measurement techniques,
into such relationships within the caves of La Garma, Las Chimeneas, La Pasiega, El Castillo, and
Tito Bustillo in Northern Spain. It addresses methodological issues concerning acoustic measurement
at enclosed archaeological sites and outlines a general framework for extraction of acoustic features
that may be used to support archaeological hypotheses. The analysis explores possible associations
between the position of visual motifs (which may be up to 40 000 yrs old) and localized acoustic
responses. Results suggest that motifs, in general, and lines and dots, in particular, are statistically
more likely to be found in places where reverberation is moderate and where the low frequency acoustic
response has evidence of resonant behavior. The work presented suggests that an association of the
location of Palaeolithic motifs with acoustic features is a statistically weak but tenable hypothesis, and
that an appreciation of sound could have influenced behavior among Palaeolithic societies of this