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Highlights from major acoustical science and technology conference, Nov. 15-19

ing, November 19.


10) Acoustic Archaeology Reveals Mayan Political Grandstanding

The temples of the Ancient Mayans played an important role in politics that can't be seen, but must be heard instead, according to Sergio Beristain, a researcher at ESIME in Mexico City -- they allowed leaders to effectively speak to throngs of people in an age before the megaphone.

"Many of these pyramids that were built for cultural and religious purposes were also used a lot for giving messages to the people," says Beristain.

Given the number of people who gathered at these sites -- crowds of as many as 10,000 people -- it would have been impossible for priests and political figures to address the masses from ground level.

Using microphones and recording devices, Beristain has measured the way that sound attenuates and disperses from the top of these structures, and found that a human voice could carry remarkably well and maintain its intelligibility.

Architectural features and walls may have helped to carry the sound farther.

"Because they are in a high position, everyone receives the sound from a good angle," says Beristain "From some of these pyramids, you could talk to someone a little over a hundred meters away without having to shout."

Dr. Beristain's presentation is part of session devoted to the acoustics of ancient civilizations.

The talk "Pyramids and basements (2pAA6)" by Sergio Beristain will be at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 16.


Dr. Beristain has written a lay-language paper that describes this research in greater detail. It is available upon request and

Contact: Jason S. Bardi
American Institute of Physics

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