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Re-Sounding Material Culture
Miriam A. Kolar Archaeoacoustics probes the dynamical potential of archaeological ma-
Address: terials, producing nuanced understandings of sonic communication, and
Five Colleges) Im re-sounding silenced places and objects.
Amherst MaSS:::1:::f:::)e(;t Acoustical Experiments in Archaeological Settings
’ USA Acoustical First Principles in Practice: Echoes and Transmission Range
Atop a 150-meter-long, 3,000-year-old stone—and-earthen-mortar building, 20 to
Email: 40 meters higher than surrounding plazas, two Andean colleagues and I listened to cascading echoes produced via giant conch shell horns known in the Andes as
pututus (see Figure 1). Riemann Ramirez, Iosé Cruzado, and I were testing and
documenting the performance of an archaeologically appropriate sound source
at the UNESCO World Heritage site at Chavin de Huantar, Peru (available at, located at the center of a 400- to 500-meter-wide val-
ley 3,180 meters above sea level. Our objective for this experiment, conducted in
2011, was to measure sound transmission via its return from landform features
surrounding the site. Although we concurred that we perceived the echoes “swirl-
ing around from all directions,” our mission that day was more than reporting
subjective impressions. By recording the initial sound and returning echo se-
quence using a co-located audio recorder, along with the ambient conditions of
temperature and humidity important to calculating the contextual speed of sound
in air, I could make precise calculations in postsurvey data analyses regarding the
distances of surfaces producing discrete echoes. Via this typical archaeoacousti-
cal experiment, we confirmed that the closest rockface on the steep western hill-
side, known to locals as “Shallapa,” produced discrete audible echoes with little
signal distortion. The test also demonstrated that transmission of the sound of
large Strombus pututus, which measure around 96 dB(A) at 1 meter, was effective
to at least 1 kilometer away from the site because strong echoes returned 6 seconds
later (Kolar et al., 2012, pp. 45-46). This range is consistent with undistorted and
audible pututu sound transmission between the site and several archaeologically
relevant landform features of the surrounding valley. Pututus such as these were
excavated from the 1st millennium BCE architecture at Chavin and continue to
be important throughout the Andes today. Therefore, our study not only provided
dynamical specifics regarding pututus in the Chavin context but also measures
extensible to the archaeology of societies such as the Inca empire that dominated
South America 2,000 years later.
Archaeoacoustics: An Archaeological Science
Archaeoacoustics is a developing field that offers the acoustical community an op-
portunity to work across disciplines to explore the significance of sound through-
out time and across cultures. Archaeoacoustical discoveries often begin with the
documentation and mechanical explanation of sound effects or the experimental
testing of what can be heard from where. However, archaeology is about putting
such findings in human context.
Archaeology spans human time and is about understanding human experience
through indirect evidence rather than direct accounts. From excavations of ar-
EB | Acoustics Thday | Winter 2018 | volume 14, issue 4 ©2018Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved.

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