Psychoacoustic influences of the echoing environments of prehistoric artsychoacoustic influences of the echoing environments of prehistoric art


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date

October 2002


Cave paintings and ancient petroglyphs around the world are typically found in echo rich locations such as caves, canyons, and rocky cliff faces. Analysis of field data shows that echo decibel levels at a large number of prehistoric art sites are higher than those at nondecorated locations. The selection of these echoing environments by the artists appears not to be a mere coincidence. This paper considers the perception of an echoed sound as a psychoacoustic event that would have been inexplicable to ancient humans. A variety of ancient legends from cultures on several continents attribute the phenomenon of echoes to supernatural beings. These legends, together with the quantitative data, strongly implicate echoing as relevant to the artists of the past. The notion that the echoes were caused by spirits within the rock would explain not the unusual locations of prehistoric art, but also the perplexing subject matter. For example, the common theme of hoofed animal imagery could have been inspired by echoes of percussion noises perceived as hoof beats. Further systematic acoustical studies of prehistoric art sites is warranted. Conservation of the natural acoustic properties of rock art environments—a previously unrecognized need—is urged.


Psychoacoustic, Cave Paintings, Echo




The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 112, no. 5 (2002-10-25).