Ancient Tones: The Lithophone

By Marilyn Martorano

Several years ago, a number of very interesting and unique artifacts were identified in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve museum collections and in private collections throughout the San Luis Valley. A cursory study of these artifacts suggested that some of them may have been used as tools called pestles. Pestles were utilized to crush a variety of materials in a vertical up-and-down motion, likely in a mortar made of stone or wood. However, at the time of this initial study, it was not clear why many of the sample artifacts did not exhibit significant use-wear similar to those known to have been utilized as pestles, and why some specimens were so long, heavy and very carefully shaped for a simple utilitarian purpose.

The possible function of some of these groundstone artifacts remained a mystery until recently, when the work of a French researcher, Erik Gonthier, was examined. Gonthier’s research on long, cylindrical stone artifacts collected from Africa confirmed that certain specimens had acoustical properties. Gonthier determined that these acoustically-active artifacts were very likely utilized as portable lithophones, a musical instrument consisting of purposely-shaped rock artifacts that are struck to produce musical notes. Lithophones have been documented from numerous cultures around the world including Europe, the Far East, Africa, the South Seas and South America. Portable lithophones can be made of unmodified stone or can be formally shaped. They are played by being suspended vertically and horizontally, held vertically, played horizontally across the lap, or placed horizontally in groups similar to a marimba or xylophone. While some lithophones from around the world are portable, others are stationary and include large boulders and even stalactites and stalagmites. There are at least two locations in the North America that exhibit concentrations of stationary rock/boulder lithophones: Ringing Rocks Park in Pennsylvania and Ringing Rocks in Montana.

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Places: San Luis State Park and Wildlife Area

By Ericka Kastner

I’ll admit it. I’m usually not much of a state parks gal. I tend to migrate toward wilderness areas, BLM  lands and National Forests. So when my friends asked me to join them on a warm July weekend last summer for a boat outing to the San Luis State Park and Wildlife Area, I almost didn’t go.

But from the moment of my arrival to the park, I was glad I’d come. The first thing I noticed was the incredible tranquility as there wasn’t another car or boat in sight. Beyond that, the views from the lakeshore were breathtaking. The Sangre de Cristos have long been my favorite Colorado mountain range, so the idea of being able to glide my stand-up paddle board on glassy water with gorgeous mountain peaks and the Great Sand Dunes National Park looming in the distance quickly became a perfect reality.

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News from the San Luis Valley

Healthy Living Park Acquires Property The Rio Grande Healthy Living Park in Alamosa is one step closer to becoming a reality after backers of the project won a lawsuit and managed to purchase the controversial property from the developer. The site of the proposed park, the Polston property, adjacent to the Rio Grande river, created …

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Colorado’s Mysterious Singing Sands

by Mary Syrett

In April of 2011, while hiking among the sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park, I heard something unusual. If you listen carefully, you may discover that sand at various locations among the dunes “sings,” making audible sound vibrations.

Sand dunes in the park do seem to have a built-in “sound track” – a phenomenon that has been reported from other widely separated dune areas. While “music” emanating from the dunes at times can be compared to the strains of a chorus in the distance, the effect at other times more closely resembles the playing of violins.

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A Lender Be (A Cautionary Tale)

by Jeff Osgood

It takes about three minutes for me to realize I’m not prepared. The six-person tent needs to go up and the light is fading and the rain’s about to move back in. It’s only my second go-round with this tent and the first was in our backyard in broad daylight where the stakes slid into the ground as easy as a straw into a milkshake. Now, under the dripping pines just outside Sand Dunes National Park with the wife and kids watching anxiously from our van, it’s a different game. The stakes barely puncture the gritty granite ground and the black loops and hooks on the tent are disappearing before my eyes.

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About the Monument

Sidebar by Marcia Darnell

Great Sand Dunes – February 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Great Sand Dunes is 60.4 square miles of the tallest dunes on the continent. The highest pile of sand rises 700 feet. The monument was established within the National park system in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover.

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