Archeologists are beginning to think that certain ancient sites were designed to conduct and manipulate sound in order to shift people’s brainwaves and, thus, their consciousness (popular-archeology.com; thanks to Institute of Noetic Sciences newsletter for the find).
One fascinating example is the 6,000-year-old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, the only prehistoric underground temple in the world, which is found on Malta. This World Heritage site was discovered “by accident” in 1902. Only 80 people a day are allowed entry. It consists of three subterranean levels. Some rooms are naturally-occurring caves that have been extended. Some of the chambers have curved walls.
The temple was “created through the removal of an estimated 2,000 tons of stone carved out with stone hammers and antler picks. Low voices within its walls create eerie, reverberating echoes, and a sound made or words spoken in certain places can be clearly heard throughout all of its three levels” (popular-archeology.com).
Malta temple expert Linda Eneix of the Old Temples Study Foundation reported that EEGs were done on volunteers listening to different sound frequencies while in the Hypogeum. "The findings indicated that at 110 Hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shifted, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language center and a temporary shifting from left to right-sided dominance related to emotional processing and creativity. This shifting did not occur at 90 Hz or 130 Hz......In addition to stimulating their more creative sides, it appears that an atmosphere of resonant sound in the frequency of 110 or 111 Hz would have been “switching on” an area of the brain that bio-behavioral scientists believe relates to mood, empathy and social behavior” (popular-archeology.com).
Similar observations have been made at archeological sites in Ireland, Turkey, and Peru.
Sound scientist Prof. Daniel Talma of the University of Malta explains: “At certain frequencies you have standing waves that emphasize each and other waves that de-emphasize each other. The idea that it was used thousands of years ago to create a certain trance – that’s what fascinates me” (thearrowsoftruth.com).
The Mediterranean Institute of Ancient Civilizations is conducting further research in archeoacoustics at the site (http://www.ancientmed.org/projects.htm).
In 1996, Prof. Robert Jahn of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab and colleagues studied six ancient UK sites, and found that “each sustained a strong resonance at a frequency between 95 and 120 Hz, despite major differences in chamber shapes and sizes….Since the resonance frequencies are well within the adult male voice range, one may speculate that some forms of human chanting, enhanced by the cavity resonance, were invoked for ritual purposes” (Jahn et al., 1996).
I found the curved walls in the Hal Saflieni photos a little unsettling, but I am currently hypersensitive from neuro damage. But, get a flashlight and look at your tonsils and the back of your throat. It bears an uncanny resemblance to this architecture, which may have been intuitively or analytically shaped to maximize the shaping and projection of sound.
During the research for this essay, Google had a Doodle in honor of the Moog synthesizer, and mentioned subtractive synthesis. The idea of subtractive synthesis is that a sound that is rich in harmonics can be shaped into a more specific sound by changing the shape of the “filter” (eg the human mouth and throat, or a proscenium), which subtracts some of the harmonics (Wiki).
The evidence that prehistoric temple builders were intentionally trying to control sound is further supported by Jahn et al.’s observation that: “The resonant modal patterns all featured strong antinodes [the point of maximum amplitude of a sound wave] at the outer walls, with appropriately configured nodes [the point of minimum amplitude of a sound wave] and antinodes interspersed toward the central source. In some cases, interior and exterior rock drawings resembled these acoustical patterns” (Jahn et al., 1996)
In the 1980s, psychologist Howard Gardner argued that the prevailing IQ tests were only capturing a certain style of intelligence, and were missing many different types of intelligence that exist. He proposed that there were several, relatively independent types of intelligence. Three of the types he proposed may be particularly relevant to the acoustic discoveries at Hal Saflieni – intrapersonal intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and musical intelligence.
Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to access one’s own feeling life, to discriminate among feelings, label them, utilize them in a symbolic way, and make meaning of them (Gardner, p. 239).
Interpersonal intelligence refers to the ability to observe and make distinctions about the moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions of others (Gardner, p. 239).
Musical intelligence he defines as the ability to discriminate pitch, rhythm, and timbre, as well as skill at recognizing what constitutes a well-structured phrase or section of music (Gardner, pp. 104-105, 107-108)
One of the ways that Gardner defended his model was to collect evidence that there appeared to be faculties that could be destroyed or spared in isolation when there was brain injury. In other words, these faculties seemed relatively autonomous (Gardner, p. 63). Since the early 1980s, we have developed our understanding of brain function (less modular, more neural networks), and consciousness (not only in the head or body), but there is still some usefulness to these insights based on localization.
Here’s the interesting thing that may pertain to Hal Saflieni – The study of brain injuries suggested that intrapersonal, interpersonal, and musical intelligence are all strongly localized in the right hemisphere and in the frontal lobes (Gardner, pp. 118, 260-267).
As Ms. Eneix noted above, the acoustics at Hal Saflieni appear to shift prefrontal cortical activity, deemphasizing language centers, shifting hemispheric dominance to the right, and activating areas associated with emotional processing, creativity, mood, empathy, and social behavior (popular-archeology.com).
So, sound could have been used at Hal Saflieni to increase people’s emotional and social intelligence, as well as to increase their ability to utilize the sound itself. All these competencies would benefit from a right hemisphere, frontal shift.
Furthermore, repeated, ongoing exposure to this effect would go beyond shifting your state for a moment. It would re-wire you to be a certain way via neuroplasticity. A comparable effect to what we are hypothesizing for the congregants at Hal Saflieni has been observed in various recent studies of people who have had a prayer or meditation practice of many years duration. Some studies suggest that, during prayer or meditation, experienced practitioners’ parietal lobes go dark – this lobe processes sensory information – and their frontal lobes light up – signifying focused attention…and perhaps signifying the activation of the personal and musical strengths mentioned above. Other studies suggest that long-term practice sculpts the brain and creates systematic, enduring changes (Hagerty, NPR, 20 May 09).
“The church was packed to such an extent that the organ did not sound quite so grand as it did when the sanctuary was empty. People, after all, absorb a great deal of sound.”
-- Graham Landrum, The Famous DAR Murder Mystery, p. 102
Thanks to Barbara Croner, MFT, for her contributions to this essay.
Gardner, H. (1985). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books.
Hagerty, B.B. (2009). Prayer may reshape your brain….and your reality. All Things Considered, NPR, 20 May 09. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104310443
Jahn, R., Devereux, P., & Ibison, M. (1996). Acoustical resonances of assorted ancient structures. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 99, 649-658. http://asadl.org/jasa/resource/1/jasman/v99/i2/p649_s1?isAuthorized=no
Landrum, G. (1992). The famous DAR murder mystery. NY: St. Martin’s Press.