ARTSOUNDSCAPES deals with sound, rock art and sacred landscapes among past hunter-gatherers and early agricultural societies around the world. The potential of sound to stimulate powerful emotions makes it a common medium for conferring places with extraordinary agency. Ethnographic and ethnohistorical sources indicate that these sites are often endowed with a sacred significance and that people treat such sites in special ways, including the production of rock paintings.

ARTSOUNDSCAPES is an ERC Advanced grant project led by Prof. Margarita Díaz-Andreu, which analyses how archaeology can systematically study aural experience as an integral component of the human condition and a key element in ritual. Some such studies of rock art landscapes have been made, but they have largely been reproached for their lack of scientific rigour and subjectivity.

ARTSOUNDSCAPES will change this and investigate the perception of sound in rock art landscapes from an interdisciplinary perspective. Borrowing methods developed in acoustic engineering, the project will assess, from an objective and quantitative perspective, the acoustic properties of rock art landscapes in selected areas around the world. Human experiences associated with altered or mystical states invoked by the identified special sonic characteristics of these landscapes will be further tested by exploring the psychoacoustic effects these soundscapes have on people and their neural correlate to brain activity.

The project will also thoroughly survey ethnographic attitudes to sacred soundscapes based on both current premodern societies and ethnohistorical sources. The combination of this array of interdisciplinary approaches will facilitate the ultimate aim of the project: to propose a phenomenological understanding of sacred soundscapes among late hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists around the world.