‘Echoing’ Maya pyramids ‘were built to inspire spirituality’

Monday, November 15, 2010

WASHINGTON - Experts are trying to solve the acoustic riddles posed by the ancient Mayan pyramids.

“I think the pyramids were essentially echo machines, built to inspire spiritual feelings,” USAtoday.com quoted acoustics expert David Lubman as saying.

“Archaeologists used to give me funny looks when I talked about this. But now they are definitely coming around,” he added.

The secret to the echo, a “pee-yooh” noise, as Lubman describes it, lies in the famously tall and narrow steps adorning the front of Maya temples.

Unlike the echo you hear from shouting at the straight walls of a canyon, the tall steps on the pyramids tune the noise returned through an effect called “Bragg scattering,” each riser bouncing back small echoes that add together to create a distinctive chirp.

Nico Declercq of Belgium’s Ghent University, supported the idea, and also found an explanation for another acoustic effect, where listeners seated on the bottom steps of the pyramid heard raindrop sounds generated by people’s footsteps farther up the 100-foot-high temple pyramid.

Pyramid building reached its height in the classic Maya culture that flourished roughly from 100 to 900 A.D., stretching from modern-day Mexico to El Salvador to Honduras.

“They all produced chirping echoes, and I don’t think it was a coincidence” Lubman said.

Maya scholar Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, is sceptical and said that there could be plenty of other of reasons for building pyramids.

Across many ancient cultures, “leaders build taller buildings than their subjects to literally show they are closer to the gods, closer to the heavens. Also, as a stage to overlook their subjects, tall buildings serve this purpose.”

“Until we find an inscription that states that they recognized that clapping equals chirping, we will never know, period,” she said.

“They were not built to re-create birds sounds. That idea is for the birds.” (ANI)

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