SPIRITUAL PRACTICES // Friday, Sept 29  1:15-2:25pm (Rm 201)

Paleolithic Spiritual Practices: An Audiovisual Perspective
Deborah Saidel

Since the late-1800s the spiritual practices of Paleolithic people have been theoretically linked by Western researchers to the painted or engraved images found on the walls of caves, cliffs, megaliths and open-air sanctuaries. However, scholarly focus on the acoustic environment or soundscape of such investigated sites is a much more recent endeavor. The notion that sounds of an ancient place may have been part of its purpose and meaning is gaining momentum. In this paper, potential audio-visual-lithic relationships are explored for their implications for deepening our understanding of the spiritual aspects of Paleolithic life, which may also may lead to our ability to render a more holistic depiction of prehistoric musicality.

The theoretical framework of this study especially draws from the work of Iegor Reznikoff, Paul Devereux, and Steven Waller who are pioneers in archaeoacoustics, the burgeoning scholarly field that mixes music archeology with acoustics. Each of them was able to clearly document a correspondence between the points of resonance and the locations of Paleolithic images within caves, which led them to conclude that the locations of the rock paintings were chosen due to their sonic value. Steve Waller’s research took a different direction as he focused on wider implications of the phenomena of echoes and rock-art by exploring ancient legends of supernatural explanations for echoes from around the world. Perhaps the art conveyed an attempt to depict the spirits and animals responsible for the magical sounds at these acoustic hot spots. His work provided a connection between the context and the content of the art as his interpretations linked images and sound to spiritual practices or rituals and cosmological ideologies.

When sonic phenomena is integrated into rock art interpretation, another important dimension for thinking about ancient spirituality emerges, which also has potential implications for transforming contemporary spiritual experiences.


Deborah Saidel is an American freelance woodwind performer and educator based in Richmond, Virginia. Her academic background is in religious studies, music studies, flute performance, and women studies. She is currently completing her dissertation, Women in Music: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Women’s Sonic, Musical, and Spiritual Experiences in Prehistory.