Archaeoacoustics: Listening to the Sounds of History

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum - Paola, Malta

When we study the ancient world, we have but one sense to use.  We can, unfortunately, only view the past with our eyes.  As beautiful as the artefacts of our ancestors are, this one dimensional perspective tends to be somewhat restrictive to our understanding.  After all, when we consider our contemporary world, we have the benefit of seeing, smelling and hearing all of the various elements that make up that landscape.  Not so with the ancient world.

However there are a select few people trying to change that.  Those people are working in the field of archaeoacoustics, and though this is a relatively new field of study, great strides are being made in an effort to understand the significance of sound as it pertains to the monuments and rituals of our ancestors.  The term archaeoacoustics has been coopted from its earlier use, as it pertained to sounds being recorded in clay pottery and other such objects during their manufacture in ancient societies, so as to be “played back” with the use of modern equipment.  This idea was once supported by many in mainstream science, but has recently fallen into disrepute as a result of many failed attempts to verify it through experiment.  The term now relates more widely to the study of sound in ancient construction and monuments.

In spite of the fanciful ideas of the more conspiratorial among us, not every ancient monument was constructed to capitalise on resonant frequencies, but some were and they deserve a closer look.

Chanting, a ritualistic form of stylised speech, and the root of all western music, was first used by ancient and prehistoric spiritual leaders in nearly all cultures as a means of furthering or supporting other aspects of ritual.  It was meant to bring the participant closer to a religious or spiritual awakening.  Chants are used in nearly all religious variants, from modern shamanistic cultures to pagan, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic traditions.  It ranges from simple melodies to complex musical structures and depending on the setting, can offer a profound experience to witnesses.

As is common knowledge, sound or music has a profound effect on us humans (and likely on some animals as well).  We develop strong associations between musical elements and certain emotions and our moods are often deeply affected by what we hear.  For this reason, spiritual or religious chants often have a deep effect on our perception of related experiences.  Religious hymns are designed to foster a connection between the congregant and the clergy, and in fact churches the world over are constructed with this in mind.  The shape and orientation of the church and its internal elements are painstakingly arranged to optimise the acoustical properties of the space, so as to maximise the effect of song and instrument alike.  And this is by no means a new practise.

Nowhere is acoustical significance in ancient construction more striking than in underground temples.  There are famous examples of such construction throughout the old world, perhaps the most famous is the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops, whichever you prefer) at Giza in Egypt.  Some theorists maintain that the King’s Chamber was designed and built to use sound as a resonant booster, to give the Pharaoh a better chance of reaching the afterlife, though this is not a widely held opinion among mainstream archaeologists or Egyptologists.  Those same theorists, conspiracy theorists you might say, suggest also that the Hall of Records, an unconfirmed structure or room situated under the Sphinx, has significant acoustical properties as well.  This is, for obvious reasons, entirely suppositional of course.

But we needn’t resort to conspiratorial fantasy in this case, for there are many ancient monuments and temples that use sound and acoustical properties to their advantage.  The underground city complex at Budapest, called the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, which is located under Castle Hill in Buda (which is the west-bank part of Budapest on the Danube river in Hungary), is said to have special acoustical properties, though since this site is largely a natural formation, it doesn’t really count here.  It does remain the oldest known example of the shape of a room or cave being used to amplify or resonate sound for ritual purposes.

Other examples, such as the Oracle Room in the Hypogeum of Ħal Seflieni in Paola, Malta offer much to study.  Hypogeum means ‘underground’ in Greek, and in this case refers to a subterranean labyrinthine structure of the Seflieni phase of Maltese prehistory (3000-2500BC).  It consists of several passages and chambers, of which the Oracle room is the smallest.  With its delicately painted ceiling, the Oracle room boasts the most powerful or effectual resonant chamber in the ancient world.  Even muted sounds made in this chamber resonate and amplify, which has the effect of distorting the sound and making it seem like it has a divine origin (or that it hadn’t been generated by any source in the chamber).  Today the hypogeum is a necropolis, containing the remains of some 7000 prehistoric Greeks, but at one time it was used for religious ritual.

Another site, Chavín de Huantar in the Peruvian Andes, is a large city ruin that was built by the pre-Incan culture known as the Chavín in approximately 1200BC, though the area is thought to have been occupied as early as 3000BC.  The site has buildings, ruins, temples and other artefacts.

Ancient visitors and priests at Chavín de Huantar would have been privy to an experience not found anywhere else.  The buildings were constructed using a highly specialized combination of shafts, corridors and surfaces, all designed to make a series of echo chambers, in which sounds – often conch shell trumpets, called pututus, being blown by priests outside of the structure and chanting, as well as water running in streams under and around the buildings – would seem otherworldly.[1]  Add in the psychotropic effect of ritual consumption of San Pedro cactus juice (and possibly other substances, like ayahuasca), and one can easily see how a pilgrimage to such a temple would have been a profound spiritual experience.

Perhaps the first archaeoacoustic researcher, Iegor Reznikoff, an anthropologist of sound with the Université Paris Ouest, found, in the 1980’s, that there is a connection between the location of prehistoric artwork in the caves at Lascaux (and other ancient cave sights in southern France, where the oldest known human art is found from 25,000BC) and the acoustic resonance of those same locations.[2]  Reznikoff and a colleague mapped such caves, highlighting areas of acoustical significance and found that those areas coincided with areas that held the most works of prehistoric art.[3]  Which suggests a defined ritualistic process to the painting, and may have been prevalent among prehistoric artists.

Acoustic resonance is a feature of many natural caves, and it’s likely that this natural feature was the primary motivator in the development of acoustics in ritual sites and practices.  Modern technology allows archaeologists to identify and study such features of ancient sites, and in most cases the research is inaccessible to the amateur.  However, there are branches of this endeavour that are within reach of anyone who can get themselves to the locations in question.

Recently, a team of researchers have been using sound to study the world famous Stonehenge megalithic site in south west Wales, Britain.  According to experts from London’s Royal College of Art, Stonehenge holds more mystery than meets the eye.  For many years, enthusiasts and researchers have held that Stonehenge had an audio component, either in its use or construction.  Many visitors report that chants and music seem to resonate in a strange way at various points within and around the structure, but new insights seem to suggest that the stones themselves were musical instruments.

Research recently published in the Journal of Time & Mind, suggests that the bluestones – the smaller stones that make up the interior of the monument – actually have acoustical properties and may have been selected for that reason.[4]  It turns out that the stones resonate in a peculiar way when struck with a hammer or other instrument, and generate a wide range of sounds.  Researchers even found what may be evidence of hammer or stone strikes on several of the stones, indicating that they’re on the right track.

This research, with the input of other experts, suggests that many of the standing stone sites throughout the UK may have had, as a central feature, an acoustic nature.[5]  It may be that Stonehenge and other standing stone circles and like monuments were built as musical instruments, to be used in conjunction with or as a part of ritualistic gatherings and celebrations.

The same may be true for monuments all over the world, as is highlighted by researchers such as Michael Tellinger, who demonstrates in a video on his YouTube channel the acoustic properties of artefacts found at Waterval Boven, South Africa. (See below)

There is no denying it, sound has played a central role in the development of not only human spirituality and culture, but also in architecture.  While most of our history can only be relayed in terms of visual artefacts and writing, the aural history of our ancestors just begs to be heard.  And when you consider the fact that resonant sound has been a significant part of human life for upwards of 27,000 years (at least), it’s no wonder so many people feel so passionately about music and its makers.

 


[1] Brooks, Michael.  Was sound the secret weapon of the Andean elites? Newscientist Magazine – September 2008 http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19926721.700-was-sound-the-secret-weapon-of-the-andean-elites.html?page=1

[2] Starr, Douglas. Notes From Earth: Echoes From The Distant Past. Discover Magazine – November 2012 http://discovermagazine.com/2012/nov/03-echoes-from-the-distant-past#.UsCjmvRDsid

[3] American Institute of Physics. "Music Went With Cave Art In Prehistoric Caves." ScienceDaily, 5 Jul. 2008. Web. 29 Dec. 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080704130439.htm

[4] Paul Devereux, Jon Wozencroft. Stone Age Eyes and Ears: A Visual and Acoustic Pilot Study of Carn Menyn, Environs, Preseli, Wales. Time & Mind  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1751696X.2013.860278#.UsCuvfRDsie

[5] Sarah Griffiths, Amanda Williams. Stonehenge ‘was a prehistoric center for rock music’: Stones sound like bells, drums and gongs when played. DailyMailUK December2013 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2515159/Why-Stonehenge-prehistoric-centre-rock-music-Stones-sound-like-bells-drums-gongs-played.html

 

Nightmares of the Future: CLIMATOLOGICAL HORRORS - The Zika Virus

There's a line from the new space opera, The Expanse, that's quickly becoming a grim shorthand for the futurepresent: Welcome to the Churn. Any doubts that we're in the midst of a slow-motion apocalypse are being set aside as the multicausal factors behind the sudden rise of the Zika Virus and its many, apparently long lasting and dire implications become clear. But there's another motto of equal power to meet this: the only way out is through.

If this is indeed the Sixth Mass Extinction, in the era now commonly agreed as the Anthropocene, then humanity is the metaphorical asteroid and we are in the process, not of affecting our own extinction, but - just as we effectively domesticated ourselves from savannah-dwelling upright chimps to become the ultimate world conquering, ecosystem shaping, invasive species - proving to be the selective filter that will determine the course of our race's evolution. The goal is increasingly becoming simply "live through this," and the Zika Virus is the first level boss we have to defeat. The best news of all, if such a thing can be said about this is - the sole ray of light in the imminent darkness - we can only do so by rapidly beginning the process of repairing the planet. Because, however you read this situation, it's definitely sick, and it falls to us to heal it. To paraphrase once more from the comic Planetary: there's no justice, there's just us.

The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed on Monday that the global average surface temperature in 2015 shattered all previous records and said 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. “We have reached for the first time the threshold of 1C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is a sobering moment in the history of our planet,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas." ~ Please Stop Saying Humans Aren’t Causing Climate Change [WIRED]

Whilst this particular essay isn't a formal part of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy (PES) series, and should more properly be considered a continuation of the themes explored in my deep reading of the TV show Fortitude, there's definitely some overlap. The biggest point of intersection can be found in the speech from Kingsman: The Secret Service that I used to illustrate PES: Pt2. For our purposes here it's really worth listening to again... for one part in particular.

When you get a virus, you get a fever. That's the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet Earth works the same way. Global Warming is the fever. Mankind is the Virus. We're making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we don't reduce our population ourselves there's only one of two ways this can go: the host kills the virus or the virus kills the host.

The Kingsman film is already considered a cannon telling of the Elite's plans in many conspiratorial-minded circles. The principal question to be answered in this exploration of the Zika Virus is who's got the upper hand right now? Is the virus killing the host, or vice versa? Is the Zika Virus a natural - whatever "natural" actually means in the context of the Anthropocene - consequence of climate chaos, or the direct result of the covert machinations of ... Read More »

New Discovery Shows that the Ancient Babylonians Tracked the Planets Using Advanced Maths

Babylonian tablet

From the 'it turns out they were much smarter than we thought' department: new research, based on a newly discovered ancient clay tablet, has found that the ancient Babylonians tracked the planet Jupiter using maths that was previously thought to have been invented 1400 years later:

Newly translated ancient tablets show that ancient Babylonian astronomers used unexpectedly advanced geometry to understand the planets.

The find, described on Thursday in the journal Science, reveals that Babylonians tracked Jupiter by calculating the areas of trapezoids they used to symbolize the planet’s motion across the sky. This geometrical trick rewrites the history books: The technique was thought to have originated in England more than a millennium later.

The study also fills in crucial gaps, says Niek Veldhuis of the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved with the study, since it “finally connects Babylonian mathematical astronomy with geometrical mathematics”—a missing link that has eluded scholars for more than a century.

Science has the full-text of the paper for those interested, and have also posted the following short video for the tl;dr crowd:

Link: Babylonians Tracked Jupiter With Advanced Tools: Trapezoids

Paper: Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter’s position from the area under a time-velocity graph

Top of the (Ancient) World: Guy in Giza Risks Jail to Take Spectacular Video

File this under 'Ballsy': Thrill-seeking teenager Andrej Ciesielski, traveled all the way to Egypt from his native Germany, with the sole purpose of climbing to the top of the Great pyramid of Giza, all this while recording it with a Go-Pro for (incriminating) posterity. After the feat was done, he was arrested and taken to the police station for questioning --what is it about Germans wanting to give such headaches to the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, anyway??

(Mind you, I don't equate this little escapade with what those two 'amateur archeologists' did back in 2013, which was the cause of a major public quarrel between Zahi Hawass and alternative historian Robert Bauval --even though it's now clear Zahi's claims were intended to unfairly blame Bauval for something which had happened on his watch while he was still Minister for Antiquities Affairs.)

He continued: 'I had asked locals what they thought of my attempt and they warned me that it was illegal to climb the pyramids, although I thought it would be fine, what with Egypt's dependence on tourists.
'I was told that I did risk prison, although on balance I thought the photos would be worth it.
'It was absolutely surreal standing on top of one of the wonders of the world and something that I will never forget. I wanted to experience Egyptian culture and I definitely managed that.'

Andrej's was probably not as 'surreal' an experience as Graham Hancock's, who has also climbed on top of the Great Pyramid (in his case, it was done before the site was open to the public, and it may or may not have involved a bit of greasing the palms of the guards *ahem*). Aside from the majestic view, Graham managed to synchronistically stumble upon a small marking, left there by none other than his own grandfather in 1916 --an event which he later confirmed by reading his grandfather's diary.

So, the only question is if a century from now Andrej Ciesielski's grandson will feel compelled to follow on his granddad's foot steps...

__________________________

LINK: Teenager risks imprisonment for the ultimate holiday photo as he films himself CLIMBING Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza

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News Briefs 29-01-2016

"Heaven is home. Utopia is here. Nirvana is now."

Quote of the Day:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

Edward Abbey

Jersey Shore Boom Rattles Residents

Image

The US's mid-Atlantic region was thunderstruck Thursday afternoon by an explosion. According to the United States Geological Survey the first event happened at 1:24 p.m. Eastern Standard Time about 2 miles / 3 kilometers north-northeast of Hammonton, NJ, possibly over Wharton State Forest. Over the next ninety minutes, nine more sonic booms were reported from southern New Jersey to as far north as Connecticut [1][2][3]. William Yeck at the USGS told Philly.com's Sam Wood, "We haven't seen anything to suggest there has been an earthquake. We have been getting a lot of calls and see signals consistent with a sonic boom." [4]

Sonic booms are formed by shock waves when an object travels faster than the speed of sound through an atmosphere. As an object goes faster, shock waves are compressed into a single shock wave exploding ahead of an object when it achieves Mach 1. That speed is equivalent to 761 mph/1,225 kph, which is pretty damned quick.

With temperatures hovering at the 40°F/4°C mark all day, the local weather was perfect for everyone in the region to hear the explosion. Cold air slows down sound but doesn't diminish its intensity, potentially allowing distant locations to experience booms with minimal change in volume. Last Saturday New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut were buried under two feet / sixty centimeters of snow with plenty still on the ground. Snow doesn't reflect sound, that's why snowy scenes are always so hushed in movies and real life. This may contribute to the perception of sound directed at a listener.

Now for the $64,000 question: "Who was it?"

Thirty seven miles north-northeast of Hammonton is Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey's Air Force base and a clear suspect.

Or they were...

Further south is the 177th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard outside of Atlantic City, home to several F-16 jets capable of 1.6 Mach. Andy Polhamus of NJ.com notes, "Two readers have written in to say they saw military aircraft maneuvering over the water near Atlantic City." [5] In addition to this, the Twitter account @AtlanticCity911 shared an intriguing audio clip of an Atlantic City police dispatcher:

But the 177th's Jersey Devils deny responsibility.

Taking the USGS and the 177th at their word, there's the problem of Hammonton being 30 miles / 48 km northwest of the Atlantic ocean. If the source of the sonic boom took off from McGuire AFB at Hammonton's northeast, it would've been travelling towards the southwest. Sonic booms follow the path taken by supersonic objects, one wonders why these were heard, and felt, to the northeast in Long Island and Connecticut.

Compounding the confusion is Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent River announcing they were behind it. A naval spokesperson reached out to the Associated Press, saying a test flight of the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning stealth fighter off the east coast on Thursday afternoon.[6] This corroborates the previous two readers reporting military jets seen off the coast of Atlantic City.

The F-35 is notable for being $163 billion dollars over budget, seven years behind schedule, and plagued with design flaws. David Axe at Reuters, notes the plane's single-engine design means it "can't turn, can't climb, can't run",[7] forcing the Pentagon to limit flights. Should these jets see real action, the USA is in trouble.

The remaining suspect has been grounded since 2003. The Concorde, a supersonic passenger jet, was mothballed after the Air France Flight 4590 crash in 2000, 9/11 making people think twice about flying, then Airbus's decision to discontinue the plane altogether.

Could it have been a meteor? Nearly three years ago a 13,000 metric ton hunk of rock exploded over Chelyabinsk in the Urals. The explosion was estimated at 500 kilotons, blowing out windows, flattening a factory, and injuring over 1,000 Russians with its sonic boom and detonation over the city.

The Jersey Shore is no stranger to otherworldly visitors. On the 23rd of April, 1922 the Toms River beach patrol reported a fireball crashing into the water, generating huge waves. Here's The Evening World's report from Monday, April 24, 1922:

The Coast Guard lookout was attracted by a bluish light in the sky and saw a ball of fire. It was accompanied by a roaring sound and a tremendous explosion occurred when the mass struck the water. An earth tremor was felt for a considerable area in and around Toms River.
Reports that the meteor had fallen on land were disproved. Headquarters of the Coast Guard along the New Jersey shore is at Asbury Park.
The meteor appeared about one-fourth the size of a full moon and was the largest even seen by those observerse who reported it. It seemed to start from about 45 degrees above the horizon and almost due south of New York.

It gets weirder with residents of Seaside Park talking about smelling the meteor after it crashed offshore. More recently, on April 18th, 1979 there were reports of a meteorite falling into Barnegat Bay near Lanoka Harbor about 20 minutes south of Toms River. Interesting to note both incidents happened around the time of the Lyrids meteor shower. 1922's show was particularly intense according to Wikipedia.

So far there are no reports of a fireball offshore. There have been two notable daylight sightings of meteors over the past week. Calgary, Alberta recorded a fast-moving fireball over their city around 5 p.m. MST [8]. On Tuesday, Floridians bore witness to a daytime fireball [9] zooming into their state from southern Georgia's airspace.

If this wasn't America's military, might it have been another country? Two hours before the booms echoed over New Jersey, the notorious Russian numbers station UVB-76 issued two cryptic broadcasts.

Synchronicity may also be afoot, with Thursday being the thirtieth anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster heralding the end of the space age.

As for my own experience, a neighbor shared an update from the Ocean County Sheriff's Department about a possible earthquake. At 2:14 p.m EST my house shook for a handful of seconds, but I didn't feel the ground move. Nobody else I know saw, heard, nor felt anything so I take solace in the sheer volume of reports flooding Twitter.

Special thanks to the Astronomical Society of the Toms River Area, @mobios for the UVB-76 recording, and @AtlanticCity911 for the scanner clip.

  1. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/us20004vbk#general_region
  2. http://06880danwoog.com/2016/01/28/boom/
  3. http://bnonews.com/news/index.php/news/id3454
  4. http://mobile.philly.com/beta?wss=/philly/news/science&id=366890161
  5. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/01/shaking_in_nj_was_likely_a_soni...
  6. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-sonic-boom-20160128-stor...
  7. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/07/14/pentagons-big-budget-f-...
  8. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/mysterious-streak-of-light-spotted-in-sky-over...
  9. http://earthsky.org/space/daylight-meteor-over-southeastern-u-s-jan-24-2016

News Briefs 28-01-2016

The Truth has still got it!

Thanks to Fox and Dana.

Quote of the Day:

"A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."

~Italo Calvino

The Waffle Rock: What The Heck Is It?

The Waffle Rock at Jennings Randolf Lake, in Mineral Springs, WV

A long time ago – circa 1930 – in the area of Mineral County, WV, there was a little town called Shaw.  You won’t find it on any modern map though, because it no longer exists.  Where Shaw once stood is now a small lake.  Jennings Randolph Lake to be precise, but it wasn’t a natural disaster that condemned Shaw, it was the American Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  Residents of Shaw were asked to pack up their lives and leave, as the government had decided to install a dam on the Potomac River, which flowed through the small town.

An entire town told to pack up and leave in the name of progress.  The people of Shaw were largely unhappy about this proposition, as could be expected, but several of those residents were less worried about their own wellbeing than they were about a strange rock known locally as ‘The Indian Rock’, that was to be buried under meters of water with the completion of the damn project.

It might seem strange that people would be so concerned about a rock, but this was no ordinary rock.  One-time resident of Shaw, Ms. Betty Webster Bishop, recounts her memories of the rock via both the Army Corps of Engineers website, as well as a commemorative website honouring the history of Shaw.

“Our Sundays were for worship and rest. The one allowed activity was a walk in the woods. It was on one of these walks that my Mother discovered ‘her’ rock, as we often referred to it. She loved God and all aspects of nature, with a special fondness for rocks, large and small. This big rock, the subject of this story, was her ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow. She never tired of taking visitors to see it, whether local or out of town. She called it ‘The Indian Rock’, but we later referred to it as ‘Mom’s Rock.’ It was located a short distance up the hill. All who came were granted the privilege of visiting Mom’s ‘Indian Rock’. We felt it belonged to us and we reveled in the sharing of it. Many spoke of it and the awe it inspired, even after many years, and the many miles that separated us.”[1]

Betty’s story is heartwarming and engenders nostalgic longings for a simpler time.  The full version, which I encourage you to read, tells of her Mother’s discovery of the rock and how it came to be known, at least to them, as “Mom’s Rock”, and of how Betty brought its story to the world via a letter to the Saturday Evening Post (December 1984).  That letter was precipitous, and led to the best answer at the time for what, exactly, this rock might actually be.  But this is getting ahead of the story.

Waffle Rock, as it’s now called, is a large block of sandstone lodged into the ground just outside the visitor center at the lake in question.  On one side of the rock appears a regular waffle-like geometric pattern of raised, darker stone that creates pockets or deep pits on the rock’s surface.  This odd formation has caused many to speculate on what might have caused such a strange pattern.  As is apparently a common failing of the editorial standards in the world of paranormal blogging these days, if you search for ‘Waffle Rock’, you’ll find numerous websites offering pretty much the exact same story, which generally goes as follows:

“This is a boulder on display at Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County, West Virginia. There have been numerous theories and speculations as to its origin, ranging from a pictograph made by prehistoric man, an Indian carving, the impression of the skin pattern of a giant lizard, or evidence of a visit to earth by an early travelers [sic] from outer space.

 After examination of the phenomenon, Corps of Engineers geologists and those of other agencies have concluded that it is a natural geological formation. Although such formations are not common, similar patterned boulders were found on the east side of Tea Creek Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Dr. Jack B. Epstein of the Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the interior, explained that the waffle rock is part of the Conemaugh geologic series that was deposited about 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian period.  It is surmised that the waffle rock is a large loose boulder that fell from a parent outcrop somewhere higher up the slope, many decades ago, before the present trees grew.”[2]

That being the extent of the readily available information on the rock, one can almost forgive the Internet’s rather quick descent into wild speculation, but the somewhat obscure accounting by Ms. Webster Bishop does provide more material to sink one’s teeth into.  In response to her December 1984 letter to the Saturday Evening Post, a letter-to-the-editor was published in the April 1985 edition, from a Col. Martin W. Walsh Jr. Corps of Engineers Commander (Baltimore MD).

Col. Walsh offered some interesting commentary about the rock:

 “Speculations range from the impressions of the skin pattern of a giant reptile, to evidence of space travelers on earth.  Upon examination by geologists from the U. S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies, it was concluded that the rock is a natural geologic formation.”[3]

Apparently Col. Walsh went on in his letter to describe the process by which such patterning could form naturally, suggesting that sand deposited by ancient streams consolidated into sandstone layers with rock above and below being compressed into the large folds that make up the pattern.  It’s believed that this occurred between 250 and 300 million years ago, during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.

Of course, there are those who are less than enthusiastic about these conventional, natural explanations.  Many claim – namely the Rense.com correspondent identified as “Jeff” and the author of s8nt.com’s piece on the matter – the scientific explanations don’t account for all of the features present in the rock.  Aside from the usual ancient alien talk, many believe that the pattern is actually an early form of hieroglyphic or primitive writing, and that the rock is the result of Neolithic art by pre-Columbian peoples. 

That’s a little short sighted though.

The rock on display at the West Virginia Outlook on Jennings Randolph Lake is but a small piece of the original rock.  It was moved there to save the geologically significant piece of history from the dam project; likely in no small part because of pressure exerted by the original residents of Shaw.  Photographs of the whole rock show clearly that the pattern, or the structure of the pattern does not run all the way through the rock, but rather can only be seen on one side.  And Dr. Epstein (mentioned above) offers an explanation more plausible than aliens or dragons, or even ancient art.

As outlined in Epstein’s official USGS fact-sheet on the Waffle Rock; when layers of sandstone were formed during the Appalachian Orogeny (the epoch during with the Appalachian range was formed), approximately 250 million years ago, the lower layers of the bedrock experienced compression forces as the Appalachian range heaved and folded.  Those different forces, which pushed that lower layer in different directions, resulted in a unique folding of the sandstone which formed joints or fractures that just happen to look like the pattern shown on the Waffle Rock.

This is a photo of a part of the rock prior to the flooding of the lake.  This p

“Four sets of joints are apparent in the waffle rock.  Sets a and b are roughly perpendicular to each other; sets c and d are at an acute angle to each other.  The stress that formed the joints, as well as the folds in the rocks, bisects the angle between joints c and d…”

The mechanism that causes the waffle pattern to appear to be of a different material is similar to that which formed the Klerksdorp Spheres.  Following the formation upheaval of the bedrock, iron ore particles filtered through the sediment and rock, and leached out of the material below, settling into the spaces between sand particles, which ultimately acted like a cement or glue.  Once settled, the compression of the sandstone by the ongoing movement of the surrounding rock turned the iron ore into Hematite (as with the Klerksdorp Spheres), which is darker, harder and of a different consistency than sandstone.

This process is sort of like a perfect storm of conditions, which resulted in the rare but not unique form we see in the Waffle Rock as it sits near Jennings Randolph Lake (also called Bloomington Lake).  Another example of the Waffle Rock (which was also taken from Jennings Randolph Lake) sits at the entrance to the US Geological Survey Headquarters in Reston, Virginia.  And as it turns out, there are many undocumented examples of identical stone patterning in several other places around the world.  (Undocumented because, to the trained eye, they aren’t particularly remarkable)

It seems likely that there will be people who refuse to accept that the Waffle Rock is a natural formation.  Hell, there are still people who think the Earth is flat.  But since Dr. Epstein was good enough to provide his expert analysis and opinion on this subject, perhaps we should bow to his superior knowledge on the subject.

But whichever camp you find yourself in, if you’ve found any of this interesting, I urge you to read Betty Webster Bishop’s story on ShawWV.com, if only to keep some part of that history alive.


[1] Dennis, Norm. The Waffle Rock: A big attractions to the thousands of visitors at Jennings Randolph Lake each year. http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Portals/63/docs/Recreation/JRL/Maps/WaffleRock.pdf

[2] “Jeff” via Robert Weese. Strange Fossil Rock Formation. Rense.com http://rense.com/general3/foss.htm

[3] Webster Bishop, Betty. The Rock and I. ShawWV.com http://www.shawwv.com/betty_bishops_rock.html

 

This Looping Möbius Video Will Crush Your Puny Human Brain

Step 1: You watch the first minute of this strange, looping video.

Step 2: You realise that it's a spherical 360° video, so you start using the arrows or dragging with your mouse to 'look around' in the video.

Step 3: You spend the rest of the night picking your brains up off the floor.

(For information/explanation/mathematics, see this blog post. Or if you prefer, just watch it while bent and have a good giggle.)

News Briefs 27-01-2016

News from multiple universes:

Quote of the Day:

Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what.

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses