Posted by: Johan Normark | November 18, 2010

Maya pyramids and acoustics

An expert on archaeoacoustics believes he has found the evidence of why the Maya pyramids were built (as if there is only one reason…). David Lubman claims that the “pyramids were essentially echo machines, built to inspire spiritual feelings.”  If one claps the hands in front of the Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza one receives an echo that sounds like the quetzal (kuk in Maya). The tall and narrow steps of Maya pyramids “tune the noise returned through an effect called ‘Bragg scattering,’ each riser bouncing back small echoes that add together to create a distinctive chirp.” People sitting on the bottom steps of the pyramid also hear raindrop sounds created by people’s footsteps higher up on the pyramid. Rain and the quetzal bird are both sacred and important to the Maya so now there is no need to search for the one and only reason why pyramids were built.

Thus, Lubman argues that the ability to produce sounds similar to the chirp of the quetzal was the reason why pyramids were constructed all over the Maya area. He compares them to medieval cathedrals that were designed to resonate to chants. Lubman suggests that the stucco that once covered the pyramids amplified sounds since it eliminated imperfections and gaps between stones.

The pyramids allowed for acoustic phenomena to emerge but I rather see them as side effects. There are also range structures with high stairways that probably would allow this phenomenon to emerge. Low pyramids with short stairways are quite common in the Maya area and I doubt that they create this sound effect. The quetzal chirp emerging from larger pyramids was simply an expressive part of the greater pyramid assemblage.



  1. His comparison with medieval cathedrals is ironic; as if medieval cathedrals are made to function primarily as sound resonator boxes.

  2. Exactly. The hieroglyphic record suggests that pyramids were believed to resemble mountains and caves. The interred bodies of past VIPs inside the structures suggest that they were not primarily echo machines.

  3. Actually, as the interview subject for that article I never believed for a moment that pyramids were built primarily for their echo effects. So I agree with Johan Normark’s point.

    It can make sense to build sacred sites such as pyramids very tall to attract, guide, and impress visitors, and a host of other reasons. When they get close enough the plan may be to further impress and awe them with magic, including visual and sound magic.

    At Chichen Itza, the pyramid of Kukulkan and the Great Ball Court seem to have used sound magic. But many other Mesoamerican pyramids with long limestone staircases also chirped.

    RawheadD,s commented on the comparison with medieval cathedrals. We might all agree that cathedral acoustics is central importance and is intentionally cultivated. I have a different explanation for the prevalence of reverberant sound in medieval cathedrals.

    I think the first Christian Basilica/Cathedral (St. John Lateran in Rome) was an acoustical mistake, being too reverberant for the spoken liturgy of the pre-Constantinan church. But instead of rejecting this gift of reconcilliation from the emperor, Christians adapted their liturgy to the space. That started the great cathedral and basilica tradition. But that’s another subject.

    David Lubman

    • Hi David,
      The Russian scientists know the secrets of the pyramids.
      As why are they building them everywhere? They build 24 already.the highest is 144 feet high.
      Google Dr Alexander Golod or See in David Wilcock’s book; The Source Field Investigations, on page 244, Pyramid Technology Explained.

  4. David, I realize that I forgot to comment on your comment. Please forgive me if I was a bit too harsh.

    Anyway, part of my current research on water attempts to include some accoustic dimensions as well:


%d bloggers like this: