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Sensual, material, and technological understanding: exploring prehistoric soundscapes in south India


Nicole Boivin, Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, The Henry Wellcome Building, University of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Street, Cambridge CB2 1QH, UK.


Recent years have witnessed an increased interest within archaeology in the non-visual senses, and particularly sound. To date, however, most studies have focused on the evidence for musical instruments and the acoustic properties of special structures and spaces, like monuments and caves. This study reports on further evidence for special musical activities at the prehistoric site of Sanganakallu-Kupgal in south India, but then also moves on to a discussion of the acoustic dimension of more mundane Neolithic technological and productive activities, like flint-knapping, axe-grinding, and crop production. It focuses on the evidence for links between such activities at Sanganakallu-Kupgal, based on shared material, gestural, and acoustic properties, and argues that the hammering of ringing rocks to make music was only one aspect of a wider Southern Neolithic cultural propensity to address technological and ritual requirements by applying stone against stone. The article attempts to bring to recent discussions of the senses an awareness of the materiality of sensory experience, which, despite recent interest in the body, remains marginalized in theoretical accounts.