So, here's something interesting.  Today I've been reading an article titled "Acoustics and ritual in the British Neolithic" by Aaron Watson.* His idea is that Neolithic structures were built not only as tombs, or as a type of "calendar" in which, for example, at Newgrange, the structure is aligned so that at the winter solstice the rising sun shines down the passage into the central chamber - but that these structures might also have been deliberately constructed to achieve certain acoustic aims.

I read about sound and ritual back when I was doing research on Scandinavian religion in the Viking age (which is, of course, considerably more recent than the Neolithic). During that time, they used sound - for example chanting or the beating of swords on shields - to create environments conducive to various rituals. And speaking of beating swords on shields, the noise of battle, at least poetically, was also part of its identification as a distinctive environment to which spirits such as the valkyries are drawn and during which supernatural events may take place. 

Now, Viking battles always remind me of hockey (that's just the way my mind works), but where was the connection to Watson's ideas about ritual in Neolithic megastructures? There was nothing obviously hockey-like there. Until I came across this:

Neolithic communities were constructing places within which the propagation of sound was artificially bounded and controlled to a greater extent than had ever been possible before. Schafer has even proposed that most ancient buildings were constructed not so much to enclose space as to enshrine sound.

As soon as I read that, the phrase a loud building popped into my head.

Hockey players and coaches will sometimes describe an "enemy" arena as being especially loud, i.e., the fans are very vocal in support of their team, and they fill every seat. This loudness is, in theory, anyhow, supposed to carry the home team a good distance toward victory. Especially during the playoffs, there can be competitive boasting about whose building is the loudest. It's a big deal.

I'm not sure that the arenas themselves are built to maximize volume, but they are equipped with monumentally loud sound systems and jumbotrons that, at key points in the game, urge fans themselves to get loud!

Am I going way out of my way to link Neolithic structures with hockey arenas? Quite possibly I am. But the role of sound in creating a certain environment, conducive to certain activities, hopeful of summoning the spirits of just reminds me of hockey arenas. I'm sorry, but that's just the way my mind works.

*Watson's article is part of The Archaeology of Shamanism, edited by Neil Price.


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