Archaeology Essentials tells us that the first step to understanding how symbols were used in past cultures is to establish a place, “by marking and delimiting territory and the territory of the community…thereby constructing a perceived landscape.” (Renfrew 250) One way to establish a sense of place is by documenting its acoustics, through an experimental archaeology process called archaeoacoustics, or acoustic archaeology. “Because spaces and buildings are long lasting, they preserve and memorialize the relationship between aural architecture and culture, conserving within the acoustics of a space the attitudes to sound of the context within which the building was created, and space was defined as a place.” (Till, Sound archaeology 295) Archaeoacoustics can give archaeologists a better perspective of past cultures by determining why they might have placed symbols of their culture in particular places. An example of acoustic archaeology is documented in Rupert Till’s article Sound archaeology: terminology, Palaeolithic cave art and the soundscape, in which Till and his team explored five caves in northern Spain that feature Palaeolithic art and or motifs. Their overall goal was to prove that the location of the cave paintings and engravings were linked to sound. The researchers were interested in acoustics relating to music within the caves. They wanted to determine if the caves themselves were chosen as spaces in which to spend time due to their ability to amplify music. The areas inside the caves with and without painting or engravings were tested in order to see if the placement of the art was due to the acoustics of the cave.


An image of a horse facing an Aurochs with a geometric design visible above the aurochs’ back, taken in the La Pasiega cave, one of the five caves that Till and his team researched.

Archaeoacoustics can grant archaeologists a view into the life of the peoples that they are studying by giving them ability to hear what the past peoples heard, and has been used across the globe, most famously in places like Stonehenge. Because of its detective-like powers, acoustic archaeology has also been used in detective shows. In fact, the reason why I first became interested in acoustic archaeology was because I was watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The episode I was watching, Committed (season 5, episode 21), was about the murder of a patient in a psych ward. In the episode, a suspect was making a pot on a pottery wheel during an altercation with a nurse. The lead detective decided that acoustic archaeology would be able to determine what was said during their fight due to the wheel’s rotation. They used a Doppler laser and an optical transducer in order to get sounds captured while the pot was being made. After processing the noise that they received from the pot, they were able to actually hear what was being said during the altercation.

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One of CSI’s lab technicians using acoustic archaeology to solve a crime.

Though it seemed a little far-fetched, like every episode of CSI, and was “busted” by Mythbusters, the episode got me interested in the field of archaeoacoustics. I definitely think that acoustic archaeology is a technique that will be improved upon and will continue to help archaeologists learn more about the past.



Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2010. 

Till, Rupert. “Sound Archaeology: Terminology, Palaeolithic Cave Art and the Soundscape.” World Archaeology 46.3 (2014): 292-304.

Goldfinger, Sarah, Richard J. Lewis, and Uttam Narsu. “Committed.” CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. CBS. 28 Apr. 2005.

Photo Sources:

“La Pasiega.” Songs of the Caves. <>.

Goldfinger, Sarah, Richard J. Lewis, and Uttam Narsu. “Committed.” CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. CBS. 28 Apr. 2005.

Additional  Information: (Mythbusters “Killer Cable Snaps”) or (Summary of findings on episode)

Heather Gill-Robinson: Bog Body Extraordinaire

Heather Gill-Robinson began her career as an archeologist just like we are, by taking an introductory anthropology class. She learned, as did we, that in wetland sites, “organic materials are effectively sealed in a wet and airless environment which favors preservation.” (Renfrew 54) Gill-Robinson’s first connection to the bog bodies, which she so heavily studies now, was via a picture of the head of the Tollund Man, Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Figure 1: A close-up view of the Tollund Man’s head, an image similar to that which Gill-Robinson saw.

The Tolland Man is the best-preserved bog body. Found in a bog near Bjældskovdal, Denmark on May 6th, 1950, the Tolland Man has been dated back to the Early Iron Age, or around 500 B.C. Gill-Robinson was amazed at the condition of the Tolland Man and wanted to learn how his body had been preserved for thousands of years. When her professor told her that researchers were still unsure how the preservation worked, Gill-Robinson decided that she wanted to perform research in order to find the answer; and research she did (in the form of experimental archeology).

In 1999, the New York Times picked up on Gill-Robinson’s bog research and wrote an article on her findings. Gill-Robinson, then a forensic support technician for the Belleville Police Department in Ontario, Canada, wanted to look into causes of decay in order to more accurately predict the time of death of discovered bodies. She chose to use piglets in her research for multiple reasons, the first of course being that human cadavers aren’t readily available, and the second being that piglets have many biochemical and physiological similarities to humans.

Gill-Robinson buried 14 piglets in three bog areas in England and Scotland, leaving each piglet in anywhere from 6 months to 28 months. After taking each of the piglets out, Gill-Robinson began to notice patterns. First, she noted that pH did not play a significant role in bog preservation, due to the fact that independent of their bog placements, in which the pHs differed greatly, the three piglets uncovered at the same time (regularly within the first few weeks) had undergone similar stages of decomposition. Also, the key find in her experiment was that the best-preserved piglets were buried in the peat bogs with the highest water levels. Gill-Robinson called this “Wetter is better.” (New York Times) Today, Gill-Robinson is focusing on the use of CT scans as a non-destructive analytical tool for bog bodies. She used a CT scan on the Damendorf Man, a bog body that everyone assumed had no bones left, because it was so flat, Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Figure 2: The flat Damendorf Man.

By using the CT scan, Gill-Robinson was able to find 5 vertebrae, the pelvis, and both thigh bones in the Damendorf Man. Not only did she find his bones, Gill-Robinson also found his brain, which had shrunk to a few inches long and half an inch thick. Using the CT scan’s imaging software, she was able to print a perfect replica of the well-preserved brain. Gill-Robinson started just like us, and look how far she’s come!


Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn (2010) Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York. Chapter 2.

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

Further Reading: