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British researcher pitches for Achill-henge

Richard Brock
PLEA Richard Brock at Achill-henge, which he believes should be retained.

British researcher pitches for the retention of Achill-henge

Structure’s potential for archaeological research is trumpeted

Ciara Moynihan

London-based researcher Richard Brock has issued a plea to halt the planned destruction of the controversial Achill-henge on the grounds of its potential as a site for experimental archaeological research.
As previously reported in The Mayo News, Joe McNamara, the man behind the Stonehenge replica, has been ordered to remove it. On July 26, An Bord Pleanála (ABP) ruled that the structure, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the villages of Pollagh and Keel, was not exempted development. The High Court subsequently lifted its stay on an earlier demolition order, which was in place until the ABP made its decision.
However, Richard Brock, a classically-trained musician and computer scientist with a long interest in the archaeology of Stonehenge, is convinced that the acoustic properties of the Achill structure could yield valuable clues to musical archaeologists, and he is appealing for its retention.
Having carried out preliminary tests on site in recent days, he is satisfied that echoes of sounds made in the centre of the mass-concrete circle create a dome of sound in much the same manner as the original Stonehenge.
Brock told The Mayo News that the leading researchers in the field, Bruno Fazenda of Salford University and Rupert Till of Huddersfield University have created approximations of the sound of drumming, clapping and using reed flutes in Stonehenge either by using computer modelling or by travelling to a concrete replica of Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington, in the US, as the Stonehenge circle is incomplete.
Bruno Fazenda, who is based at the Acoustics Research Centre of the Universaty of Salford’s School of Computing, Science and Engineering, has expressed an interest in visiting Achill-henge to carry out a scientific study of the site’s acoustics as part of his research. 
“Achill-henge is much easier to access for European researchers, is better constructed than the Maryhill version and could become a key site in the growing field of archaeoacoustics,” Brock said.
The Maryhill site was built in 1929 as a World War I memorial, and its surfaces are quite rough. In addition, it is not on an upland site in the same way as Achill-henge is, giving additional opportunities for studying acoustic effects.
Archaeoacoustics is a branch of music archaeology, which has moved on from trying to recreate the sound of ancient instruments to trying to understand how they sounded in their original contexts, and whether the ancient monuments could have been designed with musical effects in mind. “For example,” Brock said, “the echoes in Stonehenge create an impulse response that generates a reverberation tail of 47Hz – essentially a low drone that builds as rhythms interact with their own echo, creating the characteristic dome of sound, using the structure as a kind of amplifier” he added.  Much of this research is coordinated through the International Study Group on Music Archaeology (ISGMA), based at the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut in Berlin.
Brock is convinced that Achill-henge could also reveal some of the secrets of the early Irish musical instrument heritage, which goes back 4,000 years, almost to the period of the existing stone circle at Stonehenge.
These instruments range from the Late Bronze Age horns to the great Celtic trump of the Middle Iron Age, such as the famous example from Loughnashade in Co Armagh. Playing instruments such as these, or even the so-called ‘Mayophone’ – “an Early Medieval free reed horn” – in Achill-henge could, Brock believes, give us a more accurate picture of their original sound and function in a ritual context.
However, Achill-henge’s days now appear numbered, as Mayo County Council has said that if Joe McNamara refuses to demolish the structure, it will.  
Commenting on the replica’s now-shaky future, Brock said that Mayo County Council should delay the demolition of Achill-henge until its potential contribution to scientific archaeoacoustic research can be fully explored. “Preferably, though, it should be retained, as this is a rapidly expanding field regularly yielding exciting discoveries,” he added.

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