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Cave painting sites may have been chosen for their acoustics, scientists argue

"Many structures throughout history featured reverberant spaces because reverberant sound can be awe-inspiring," said acoustic scientist David Lubman.

By Brooks Hays
Cave painting sites may have been chosen for their acoustics, scientists argue
New research suggests some cave painting sites may have been chosen for their acoustic qualities. Photo by Caroline Blumberg/European Pressphoto Agency

June 29 (UPI) -- New research suggests the sites of cave paintings created by Paleolithic peoples many have been chosen for their acoustic qualities.

Such a connection would suggest cave paintings held a religious or spiritual significance and were the site of rituals featuring chants and music.

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Scientists found that "points of resonance" in three French caves correspond with the placement of cave paintings. The three sites produce strong low frequency resonances.

While the correlation is intriguing, researchers say their analysis is speculative. The connection isn't conclusive.

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"Many structures throughout history featured reverberant spaces because reverberant sound can be awe-inspiring," David Lubman, an acoustic scientist and fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, said in a news release. "With that said, there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that these Paleolithic artists deliberately chose reverberant spaces for their paintings."

Lubman and his colleagues presented their theories on the acoustic qualities of cave painting sites at this year's annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, held this week in Boston.

If Paleolithic peoples indeed valued resonance, particularly reverberance, they would have prized non-porous stone surfaces.

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"The main problem is that paintings on porous stone do not last, so we don't know if such paintings existed and were lost over time or were never painted in the first place," Lubman said. "Conversely, paintings on non-porous stone do persist and coincidentally spaces composed of non-porous stone walls are good spaces for sound reverberation."

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Lubman hopes further research will determine whether the correlation is worth taking seriously or simply a coincidence of nature. Measurements of additional cave painting sites by trained acoustic scientists could reveal important patterns.

"If a significant degree of correlation between the location of the reverberant spaces and the presence of paintings were to be found, this alone would be an important discovery and opens up the possibility for new explanations," Lubman said. "It could, for example, be entirely possible that Paleolithic cave artists initially chose spaces with non-porous stone because they were good canvasses for paintings -- and then subsequently discovered that they were also great locations to generate reverberant sound."

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