A case study

(HEAD-Genuit-Foundation, Berlin, Germany)

Keywords: Acoustics, binaural, sanctuary, site planning, soundscape

This paper discusses recent acoustics fieldwork conducted at Mt. Lykaion, an ancient Greek sanctuary and games complex dedicated to Zeus. Active for hundreds of years with an ash altar and hippodrome, the complex was monumentally developed around 425BCE with limestone structures including a stoa, bathhouse, administrative building, and various natural fountain houses—all of which lay in complete ruin today. Little is known about the original functions of the site in antiquity, from possible rationality in its physical layout to patterns of use during ritual athletic competitions. Yet despite the physical deterioration, contemporary visitors can experience distinct ‘sound-lines’ throughout the site, where, in certain locations, unamplified conversations can be held across distances of fifty or one hundred meters. Contemporaneous open-air theaters demonstrate the ancient Greek command of acoustics, suggesting sound could have played a primary role at other sites of public spectacle as well, such as sanctuaries and ritual spaces like Mt. Lykaion.
Concurrent with outside archaeological investigations, digital acoustic explorations are attempting to identify patterns of aural anomalies across the site to help determine whether sound was an intentional driver in the ancient sanctuary’s layout and design.  A modified impulse response test has been developed and is employed between prominent site locations based on recent architectural and archaeological findings (e.g. building entrances, promontories, unusual seating features).  The fidelity and qualities of the surviving signal are recorded at specific points using binaural microphones.  Subsequent digital analysis employs the latest acoustic and psychoacoustic metrics (e.g. perceived loudness) to compare recordings and determine whether unusual characteristics align with ancient built features.
Field-testing and evaluation methodologies will be presented in detail.  Audio recording results demonstrate how sonic relationships may be traced in open-air settings, using the remains of their underlying, unrecognized acoustics to ask how sites may have functioned in antiquity.

Relevance conference / Relevance session:
This research adds to the collection of digital tools being discussed by proposing binaural sound recording and analysis as a new digital tool for archaeology and heritage investigation.

The methodology proposed in this paper details a new experiential approach to site research by conceiving sound as artifact and digitally tracing the acoustic remnants of the ancient soundscape.


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