London: Stonehenge, it is said, marks an ancient burial site, forms an astronomical calendar and is even considered as a monument to the fertility gods.
But, now an archaeologist has claimed that these iconic stones were inspired by an extraordinary hallucination.
While the theory may seem bizarre, legend has it that some stone circles were formed when maidens who danced in a circle to magical pipers were turned to stone.
The intriguing idea comes from Steve Waller, an independent scientist who believes art and architecture are inspired not only by what we see but also by what we hear, the Daily Mail reported.
He is especially interested in the effect of something called an interference pattern – the variation in sound created when two noises collide.
Depending on how they interact, sections of the sound can be dampened.
The effect can baffle the brain, tricking it into thinking that there is a building or other structure in the way, blocking the sound, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Vancouver heard.
The first experiment conducted by Dr Waller demonstrated this – and tied it to Stonehenge and other stone circles.
He took two groups of volunteers, blindfolded them and led them in a circle around a pair of recorders that were being played.
They were then asked to turn away, take off their blindfolds and sketch what they thought had been between them and the noise.
Drawings and descriptions included circles of pillars, solid objects, openings, archways and tall vertical slats.
“I believe that could have happened 5,000 years ago just as easily as it can be demonstrated today,” Dr Waller said.
“That if these people in the past were dancing in a circle around two people playing the flute, or whistle or whatever they had back then, and they were experiencing the loud and soft and loud and soft regions that happen when an interference pattern is set up, they would have felt there were these massive objects arranged in a ring.
“It would have been a completely baffling experience they would not have been able to explain. Anything that was mysterious like that in the past was considered to be magical and supernatural. And I think that was what motivated them to build the actual structure that matched this impression. It was like a vision they received from another world.”
To test his theory further, he travelled from La Mesa, California, to Stonehenge. There, he showed that the stones do block sound in the way he expected.
When asked if his findings could be mere coincidence, Dr Waller, who hopes to publish his research in a scientific journal, asserted that legend backs him up.
“There is a legend where two pipers went out in a field and enticed maidens to dance around them and they all turned to stone.”
“There’s also a tradition that Merlin magically constructed Stonehenge. Obviously that’s not true, but there’s a lot of mythology around Merlin that he was imprisoned in walls of air invisible to others, but visible to him.
“That’s exactly the auditory illusion you get. All these legends and that kind of tradition tend to support that it’s not coincidence. There has really not been a good explanation on why our ancestors were hauling these tonnes of stone and building these structures. We have no idea what was behind it. This would explain their motivation.”
But Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine and a leading expert on Stonehenge, expressed doubts over Dr Waller’s theory.
“The archaeology of Stonehenge in many ways is still a mystery. But we do know is that it was something that emerged over several centuries and wasn’t thought up overnight,” he said.
“There is no question it’s main axis is aligned along the mid-summer sunrise and mid-winter sunset and there is widespread agreement that it was used for cremation burials”
“I don’t think you’ll find many archaeologists who know about Stonehenge giving this particular acoustic theory a lot of time,” he added.