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date: 20 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The distinctive architecture of Neolithic passage tombs reproduces the fundamental format of a camera obscura. Could Neolithic people have projected animated images of the outside world into the chambers of these monuments? Fieldwork in Wales and Scotland reveals that the methods required to generate optical projections inside passage tombs are straightforward and do not require a lens. At those sites that feature a solar alignment it is possible to project an enlarged disc of the sun into the chamber, while the landscape is visible within others. Some of the most distinctive effects featured projections of people; spectral human figures that moved through the monument, or even appeared to emerge from the walls. These phenomena are striking to witnesses in the present day. In the Neolithic, such intense multisensory events might have transformed passage tombs into places where people engaged with spectacular and otherworldly experiences.

Keywords: camera obscura, optics, light, ritual, multisensory archaeology, archaeoacoustics, Neolithic, passage tomb

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