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SONART Report Summary

Project ID: 627351
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Spain

Final Report Summary - SONART (Sounds of Rock Art. Archaeoacoustics and post-palaeolithic Schematic art in the Western Mediterranean)

The project SONART focused on the relevance of acoustics as a factor for the production, location and active use of prehistoric rock art. The aim of the project was to develop a comparative study of acoustics of Schematic rock art landscapes and sites, mostly rock shelters, in six sample areas of the Western Mediterranean (Spain, France and Italy) in order to explore the sensorial experiences sought by prehistoric rock art creators during the Neolithic and Early Bronze age. The project developed a new technique to measure the sonority of sites by means of high portable and low-cost devices that meets standard requirements of acoustic measurements. Through this technique it has been possible to assess whether the acoustic of places – and particularly echoes and reverberation - was relevant in the selection process of rock art sites to be decorated. The project also explored what type of sound source produces better acoustic effects in rock art landscape and whether specific rock art motifs are associated with acoustic affects. Results of each studied areas have been compared in order to infer commonalities in the cultural conventions of rock art creators regarding sensorial experiences.

The final results of SONART project push further archaeoacoustics in the field of rock art beyond the boundaries reached by the discipline so far by linking together the components of archaeoacoustics (acoustic, soundscape, musicology, and archaeology) that have so far remained scattered and marginally represented within a unique field of study in academia.
In particular the main results of the SONART project consist in:
• development of a new portable, low-cost and powerful equipment based on Ambisonic recording technique for 3D Impulse Response analysis by which it is possible to quickly acquire in remote areas several acoustic parameters such as direction of arrival and audibility of sound reflections, reverberation, resonance, apparent sound source width, acoustic envelopment, transmission loss and attenuation;
• development a new technique to digitally plot sound reflections over 360° panoramic pictures and video; this technique allows to visualize the direction of arrival, intensity and energy of sound reflections in a way similar to acoustic cameras;
• development a convolution process to digitally simulate any kind of sound sources (including dry sounds of prehistoric instruments) in a virtual space with the same spatial and temporal characteristics of real spaces acquired by Impulse Response measurements; this technique provides the basis for further developments aimed at presenting to a general public a virtual audio/video environment of rock art sites and landscapes;
• identification of a relationship between sound-reflecting surfaces in rock shelters in open-air environments, mostly canyons and river valley, and the location of rock art in the three studied areas; this relationship allows us to assess the role of echolocation (the human ability to identify the location from which sound reflections originate) in rock art contexts;
• identification of a relationship between augmented audibility of distant sounds and the location of rock art in the three studied areas; this relationship allows us to get a deeper understanding of the placement of rock art for possibly the purpose of controlling the landscape;
• identification of patterns of distribution of different rock art iconographies and chronologies according to the ability of places to enhance the propagation of sounds at great distance; this analysis allows us to outline future directions in the analysis of rock art audience and in the field of signalling and communication in prehistory;
• identification of commonalities in the cultural conventions regarding sensorial experiences sought by Schematic rock art creators in Western Mediterranean;

The results of the SONART project have been disseminated to both academia community - throughout conferences, papers in scientific journals, workshop and seminars which have steer the scientific debates - and to general public. The latter dissemination activity consisted in educational games and laboratories for primary schools (France and Italy) and talks to members of the main touristic offices of the studied area about possible avenues for touristic exploitation of findings. Moreover, the website of the project is actively working and it is accessible at

The knowledge generated by the SONART project gives policy makers and civil society an empirically based understanding on intangible features of prehistoric landscape usually not immediately perceived as heritage resources. It represents a point towards a new way to map and manage prehistoric rock art according to a new perspective related to sensorial experiences sought by prehistoric communities. The methods so far developed by the project could have also promising further developments and technological transfer to industry in the field of virtual audio/video simulations and immersive experiences of archaeological contexts.

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