Mystery of Greek Amphitheater's acoustics solved

Posted on Monday, Apr 09 2007 @ 06:15 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
The ancient Greek Epidaurus amphitheater has amazing acoustics. In this amphitheater with an audience of 14,000 people it's still possible to hear the musicians and the voices of the actors, both unamplified, from the back row.

Scientists have now finally solved the mystery:
Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered that the limestone material of the seats provide a filtering effect, suppressing low frequencies of voices, thus minimizing background crowd noise. Further, the rows of limestone seats reflect high-frequencies back towards the audience, enhancing the effect.

Researcher Nico Declercq, a mechanical engineer, initially suspected that the slope of the theater had something to do with the effect.

“When I first tackled this problem, I thought that the effect of the splendid acoustics was due to surface waves climbing the theater with almost no damping,” Declercq said. “While the voices of the performers were being carried, I didn’t anticipate that the low frequencies of speech were also filtered out to some extent.”

However, experiments with ultrasonic waves and numerical models indicated that frequencies up to 500 hertz (cycles per second) were lowered, and frequencies higher than 500 hertz went undiminished, he said.
The funny thing is that the Greek builders of this theater didn't themselves understand why the audibility of sound was so great in this amphitheater. Attempts to recreate the Epidaurus design never matched the original.

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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