Echoing landscapes: Echolocation and the placement of rock art in the Central Mediterranean

Publication date: July 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 83
Author(s): Tommaso Mattioli, Angelo Farina, Enrico Armelloni, Philippe Hameau, Margarita Díaz-Andreu
Many societies give special importance to places where echoes are generated, and often these places receive special treatment including the production of rock paintings in them. The identification of the exact places where echoes come from, or echolocation, is an ability only shared by a few individuals in each community. Unfortunately for archaeologists, however, their activity leaves no trace in the archaeological record. In this article we propose that the Ambisonics technique, a method developed in the field of acoustical physics, can be applied to identify the likely use of echolocation among societies for which no ethnographic information remains, such as most of those who lived in prehistoric Europe. A description of how this method has been applied in two case studies, the rock art landscapes of Baume Brune (Vaucluse, France) and Valle d’Ividoro (Puglia, Italy), is provided. In these two echoing areas only a few shelters were chosen to be painted with Schematic art, leaving around them many others undecorated. In the description of the fieldwork phase of the test, issues related to the sound source, the sound recorder, and spherical camera and how the Impulse Response (IR) measurement was made are discussed. The processed results indicate that there was a positive relationship between sound-reflecting surfaces and the location of rock art. This leads us to propose that in both areas there is a strong probability of echolocation having been employed by Neolithic people to select the shelters in which to produce rock art. The results obtained in our study also have wider implications in our understanding of how prehistoric peoples perceived the landscape in which they lived in, understood not only on the basis of tangible elements but, perhaps more importantly, because of intangible aspects such as sound and, in particular, echoes.