Musicologists analysed the sounds produced by instruments excavated in Poland and found that some have their register surprisingly well-packed with high frequencies.
“For instance, many medieval maracas have their main frequencies within the 18-20 kHz and higher range, which is above the threshold of human hearing,” said Professor Anna Gruszczyńska-Ziółkowska of the Systematic Musicology Department of the University of Warsaw – the scientist in charge of the research.
“We may, therefore, say that the instruments are capable of producing ultrasounds,” said the scientist, adding that older instruments dating back to, for instance, the Bronze Age, also produce very high frequency sounds although a little lower than the Medieval ones, falling within the 7-10 kHz range.
The maracas and other instruments such as cymbals and glockenspiels were surveyed by a group of scientists from the University of Science and Technology in Kraków (AGH). As a result, a couple of hundred idiophones were analysed. Idiophones are instruments that create sound primarily by vibrating and without the use of strings or membranes.
“This analysis surprised us. The sound of these instruments, especially silent maracas, seems less than appealing?. But it turns out that the lack of attractiveness is only due to the limitations of our hearing… We posit that producing [ultra]sounds and not sounds in other frequencies was the intention of these objects’ creators,” said the musicologist.