Do you like rock music? Ever heard of J.J. Ott? In 1890, this creative musician
showcased his talents in a concert for the Buckwampum Historical Society in Bucks County,
Pennsylvania (USA). His “clear, bell-like tones” dominated the accompanying brass band.
Mr. Ott was playing rocks.
It has long been known that certain rocks can make ringing sounds like a bell. Evidence
has even been found that ancient cultures played musical stalactites in religious
ceremonies. These ringing rocks, as they are known, seem to break the physical laws of
Size and shape have little impact on the rocks’ tone, for chips off some blocks ring
exactly like the original rock. Individual rocks may have a large range on frequencies,
changing with the location where they are struck. And while one rock will ring, other,
identical ones will often not.
In 1965, a group of researchers used boulders from a field in Upper Black Eddy in Bucks
County, Pennsylvania to solve the mystery. (This was the source of Mr. Ott’s instruments,
and some local residents have tried to explain the music with theories of witchcraft or
extraterrestrial forces.) These scientists cracked, sawed, crushed, and examined under
microscopes samples of the 180-million-year-old stones. They concluded that the ringing
properties came from internal tension caused by successive wetting and drying in the
field. Boulders that remained in the shade maintained more moisture, weathering faster
and failing to make sounds. If removed from the dry environment, the rocks would lose
their musical properties.
Others contend, claiming that some specimens continue to produce sound even when
submerged in ponds of kept in damp cellars, or that only 1/3 of the sunlit rocks actually
ring. No matter the reason, ringing rocks also occur in England, Wales, Nigeria, and East
Africa. These mysterious “stone gongs” are found in temples and homes of Kufow in
northeastern China, as well.