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Acoustics in Maeshowe

Investigations into the behaviour of sound inside Maeshowe has opened up a new avenue of possibilities into the cairn's use and function.

Because of the chamber's acoustic properties, a drummer or chanter within the tomb could appear to be surrounded by silence, while the sounds they created were emphasised at significant parts of the chamber.

This effect - zones of extreme high and low sound - is due to the interaction of standing sound waves in the prehistoric structure.

The loudest areas, it was found, seemed to concentrate around the tomb's side chambers, perhaps giving the impression of otherworldy sound coming from the realm of the dead.

Were these effects deliberately exploited by those who officiated over the rituals and ceremonies within Maeshowe? Or were these "priests" as in awe of the effects as those who witnessed them?

It is particularly interesting to note Maeshowe's midwinter significance - a time where, in later centuries, the spirits of the dead - trows - were thought to roam wild and unchecked.

One of the ways of avoiding the attentions of these supernatural spirits was through noise - beating and banging objects was thought to scare them away.

In Maeshowe, as the dying sun slipped beneath the horizon, there was a time of death until the sun rose again, reborn to grow stronger with each day that passed. Did this bleak midwinter period have the same significance to the people of Neolithic Orkney to those who came afterwards? A time of death, when the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living thinned to such and extent that it was possible to cross over - commune with the ancestors?

The only difference being, the Neolithic Orcadians did not have the same fear of the dead. If so, were the mind-altering ceremonies carried out at this time to make this cross-over possible?

We can only speculate.

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