Perceiving Sound in Antioch

Sound perception is a relatively unexplored concept in art historical and archaeological fields of study. The recording arts have only been around for less than a century, and mainly connected to capturing the modern, not the historical. While fields such as archaeomusicology explore the sounds of ancient music, we have little to no perception of sound in everyday spaces. This is due in part to the fact that these spaces don’t exist today. While some important ancient buildings are still standing, the vast majority of residential and commercial spaces were repurposed, destroyed or built upon in the name of progress. Antioch is no different; we may have many of the mosaics from the ancient site, but nothing exists of walls, thresholds or rooves. Furthermore, most of the research on these buildings has understandably been focused on the mosaics remaining. However, through my research conducted during the first phase of the Antioch Recovery Project and through experiments conducted during the projected second phase, I intend to recreate some of the sounds of ancient Antioch using modern settings and technology.
While little is left of the buildings at Antioch, we can use the floor plans and research on contemporaneous buildings to gain a better understanding of how they worked. The buildings were likely made out of stone, which would have likely made the rooms incredibly echoey. This would have made it difficult to hear anything. The warm climate also points away from materials such as wall coverings, which would have helped to dampen some of the sound. However, this warmer climate also would have made possible outdoor and outdoor-adjacent spaces. For example, looking at a floor plan of the house of Menander (Figure 1), we can see that there exist pools and colonnades. Pools in the houses would have been filled by falling rainwater, so it is evident that these spaces were open to the outside. Furthermore, we can make the assumption that other colonnaded spaces would have been open-air as well. This is particularly interesting because these open-air spaces correspond with larger gathering places such as dining rooms and courtyards. These large spaces being open to the outside would help to dissipate some of the echo that we could assume occurred in smaller, closed off rooms. It is also likely that these smaller rooms were probably private rooms (such as bedrooms), where less sound, and thus less echo, would occur.
Now that we have some understanding of how buildings in Antioch might have looked and worked, we come to the question of how to recreate sound in these spaces that no longer exist. There are two types of spaces that we would need to record in: indoor and outdoor-adjacent. While these spaces may not actually exist in situ, certain modern spaces would work as adequate places to record and recreate sound. The first space is the Dumbarton-Oaks museum in Washington, D.C. This space has a collection of many Antioch mosaics displayed on the floors and are open to walk on. This is an exciting prospect for being able to record sound interaction with mosaics themselves. This space would be an adequate recreation of outdoor-adjacent spaces in Antioch houses, as there would be little echo and more focus on the sound of walking over mosaics. In order to get a historically accurate sound, I also propose doing research into authentic footwear of the time to see how sound differs between modern footwear, bare feet, and historical footwear. In order to capture the sounds of indoor spaces, I propose that we record in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This museum has preserved rooms from Pompeii (Figure 2) that, while not in the same geographic location or century, are likely extremely similar to the indoor rooms that existed in Antioch. Furthermore, the Museum is extremely open to projects and research as long as there is no damage to the art. This means that we would probably be able to get into the space and record without having to get express permission from the administration. However even if we needed permission, I am sure that the Met would allow us to record. I also propose researching ancient musical instruments to use in this space, as the instruments were likely created to thrive in the echoey qualities of indoor rooms. It would also be interesting to research and recite ancient poetry in these rooms in order to see how they would sound to an ancient ear.
While covid-19 has made it impossible to gather these recordings in this semester, I am thankful that there will be a second phase of this project, so we can gather this data. In my opinion, it is extremely important to understand how sound worked in these spaces, as sound is an integral yet often overlooked part of our lives. Hopefully, this research will also bolster more projects similar to this one and make ancient sound recreation a more explored field.

Figure 1.

Figure 2. for more information, visit

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