Singing the land, signing the land

Singing the land, singing the land is written by Helen Watson with The Yolngu community at Yirrkala, and David Wade Chambers. Because the Yolngu community were so heavily involved, the content is an accurate reflection of the way they want their knowledge conveyed to the world.

This work was hugely influential on my thinking right from the start of my research journey. One click on the image and you will be there.
Yolngu knowledge

 

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Posted in Australian Aboriginal, orality, primary orality, The Memory Code, Yolngu | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Memory Code is published

I have been overwhelmed, delighted and, I must admit, astonished by the reaction to the first few days of The Memory Code being released. Thank you to everyone who has written to me in response to the radio interviews. Here are two ABC interviews available online:

Conversations with Richard Fidler (1 hour)

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(c) ABC

Conversations with Richard Fidler is also available on Soundcloud.

Life Matters with Ellen Fanning (20 minutes)

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IMAGE: AN ANCIENT ABORIGINAL ROCK CARVING ON THE BURRUP PENINSULA IN THE NORTH OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA. PILES OF RED ROCK WHICH TYPIFY THE AREA ARE THE SITE FOR PERHAPS ONE MILLION PIECES OF ABORIGINAL ROCK ENGRAVINGS SEVERAL THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD AND CONSIDERED BY SOME TO BE THE GREATEST CONCENTRATION OF SUCH ANCIENT ART IN THE WORLD. (GREG WOOD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

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Posted in Allen & Unwin, archaeology, British Neolithic, indigenous memory systems, memory, memory devices, Memory Spaces, mnemonics, orality, prehistory, primary orality, Richard Fidler, songlines, Stonehenge, The Memory Code | 2 Comments

Guest post: Are we outsourcing the human mind?

In my parent’s schooling they had to memorize poems and other great works. In my schooling it was mostly dates and places. Today memory has been outsourced to Google…

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Guest blogger: Tyler Barrett

So wrote Tyler Barrett on a friend’s Facebook post about The Memory Code. Tyler is Chief Puzzler at Outside the Box Productions, a teaching organization based in Sedona, Arizona. He is also a psychologist, magician, musician, author and teacher. I asked him to expand on these ideas, and he wrote:

We are slowly but surely “outsourcing the human mind.” It started with the invention of the electronic, hand held calculator. In one fell swoop we really didn’t need to know how to do math in our heads. We no longer needed to memorize times tables or any equations. We had a machine to do it for us. Then came the cash registers that figured out what change the customer should get back when tendering a $20. We now have automobiles that can almost drive themselves. Our smartphones can tie us into Google and the web, and they can be voice controlled. And of course we have hand held translators, so we don’t have memorize/learn any other languages than our own.

The big question is, what’s left in our heads and what do we do with it? Do we become more or less creative? It’s been said that Einstein couldn’t/didn’t remember his phone number, because it cluttered up the pure space in his mind where he was working out his theories. It is some of the higher cognitive functions that are being outsourced. The more ancient parts of our brains are still with us.

So we will still be driven and motivated by our emotions. We haven’t yet figured out how to outsource how we know what is “fair”, “right or wrong” “good or bad”. We also haven’t outsourced religion (based on emotionally held beliefs). So we are verging more and more on a “lower” (more animal, more basic) form of creature more driven by feelings and internet driven biases, more tribal and alas, more confrontational. Many today think (believe) technology is the answer to all of our problems. I fear it isn’t .

Tyler Barrett

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Posted in memory, memory devices, Memory Spaces, mnemonics, orality, The Memory Code | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Monuments for memory – the Ten Indicators

Stonehenge

My theory about the purpose of many ancient monuments argues that they were built primarily as memory spaces. Their design was specifically to enable elders to practice their memorisation, to teach it and to perform the knowledge for the community according to the various levels of initiation of the audience. Elders memorised the knowledge on which survival, physically and culturally, depended: entire field guides to all the animals and plants, navigational charts, genealogies, laws, resource rights, trade agreements, land management, astronomy, geology … all in memory.

cover-amazon In Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, I presented ten indicators that a monument was built as a memory space, it was a mnemonic monument. They are listed in decreasing order of importance.

1. A stratified society with no sign of individual wealth or coercion

In the small scale oral cultures I am talking about, the elders maintained their power through controlling knowledge. In all other ways, the societies appear to be egalitarian. Obviously my starting point was Australian Aboriginal cultures, but Native American, many African and Polynesian cultures also fit the scenario.

2. Public and restricted ceremonial sites

The imperative to perform the knowledge repeatedly should leave an archaeological record of both public and restricted performance spaces. Platforms, mounds, enclosed spaces, plazas and even flat-bottomed ditches, can act as suitable performance spaces. Restricted spaces ensure those initiated higher into the knowledge can repeat it in secrecy which effectively avoids the so-called Chinese whispers effect. When dealing with knowledge from generations ago, such as surviving severe resource stresses, accurate retention is essential.

3. Large investment of labour for no obvious reason

All historical and contemporary oral cultures value education and formally educate the young. They don’t learn everything casually while out on a daily gather and hunt or round the campfire at night. There is no society which works that way and so there is no reason to believe that oral cultures in prehistoric times were any different.

Mobile cultures use significant landscape places in order to keep a record of each aspect of the knowledge. They encode it in the landscape. If a society is to settle they must replicate these set of locations in the local area. That is the very basis of the monuments. But there’s a lot more to it than that!

4. Signs of a prescribed order—the Method of Loci

If a monument is a memory space, then there must be a prescribed order to the memory locations so that information is not lost through lack of reference. The ancient Greeks described their locations from their preliterate times: there should be a defined sequence in a location away from distracting passers-by which is well lit, with loci not too much like one another, of moderate size, with a moderate distance between them. My research shows that all oral cultures did this – and we have ample evidence from Australia of a continuous knowledge culture for tens of thousands of years.

Circles or lines of stones or posts, a sequence in the ditches or mounds enclosing open space, or large, non-domestic ‘buildings’ would serve as memory theatres beautifully.

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An African memory board of the Luba people, the lukasa. This one is in the Brooklyn Museum.

5. Enigmatic decorated objects

Documented oral cultures use a huge variety of memory aids: inscribed stones, notched or decorated wooden sticks or boards, inscribed bark, decorated hides, dance costumes, masks, props, knotted chords, curated human and animal bones, bundles of non-utilitarian or symbolic objects and representations of mythological ancestors on a wide variety of media.

Enigmatic objects found at ceremonial sites which match these patterns add to the argument that the monument served as a memory space.

6. An imbalance in trade

Knowledge is traded in every society I have examined, literate and non-literate. If resources and labour are coming into the site but nothing being manufactured or grown there, then it is logical to assume that it is a place when knowledge is being traded in the form of songs, dances and mythological stories and encoded using a variety of memory devices.

7. Astronomical observations and calendrical devices

Whoever maintains the calendar holds a very powerful role in oral cultures. Detailed astronomical observances were common among complex hunter-gatherers, primarily to maintain calendars and schedule ceremonies. The heavens were also used as memory aids, with characters and stories attributed to stars and planets as it is the case with every society, literate or non-literate.

Astronomical alignments add to the argument that a monument is a memory space.

8. Monuments that reference the landscape

Landscape references are critical as memory markers in the oral tradition of both mobile and sedentary cultures. Not surprisingly, most of the enigmatic monuments around the world make some reference to the much wider landscape.

9. Acoustic enhancement

Songs are far easier to remember than prose; dramatic performances are more memorable than static recitations. Monuments which are designed to aid memory would have structures which enhance singing, chanting and the music for the dances. And it is those songs which encode all the essential practical information.

10. Rock art as mnemonic

We know from historic oral cultures that rock art is often used to aid memory of the stories, songs, chants and other aspects of the knowledge system. Abstract art is far more useful as multiple layers of information can be encoded and secrecy maintained.

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If an archaeological site demonstrated most, if not all, of the ten indicators given above, then it is logical to conclude that the control of knowledge was a fundamental aspect of the culture which constructed the monument. The elders constucted themselves a memory space. And the most elite of them may well have been buried there.

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Posted in Cambridge University Press, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, lukasa, memory devices, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mnemonics, primary orality, stone circles, Stonehenge, Ten Indicators, The Memory Code, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The launch is happening – June 30

The launch is now available for booking. The end of the long haul is really happening.

I will be giving a talk first on the memory methods and how to apply them in your own life.

launch-ad

So excited!

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Posted in archaeology, art of memory, Chaco Canyon, Easter Island, Memory Spaces, orality, primary orality, Stonehenge, The Memory Code | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Memory Code – Table of Contents

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The Memory Code is often referred to, by those asking me about it, as ‘your Stonehenge book’. I have no doubt that the ideas about the purpose for Stonehenge will attract much of the attention, but it is only one chapter in 12. So I have put the Table of Contents below so you can see the extent of the book. It covers more ground than Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, but without all the academic justification.

I have had a great deal of contact in recent weeks from the memory community, including memory champions on three continents! I have also been asked to write an academic essay for Rounded Globe on indigenous memory methods and implications for contemporary thinking. It will be titled Grounded: indigenous knowing in a concrete reality and free for all. This is part of the move for academics to communicate beyond the expensive academic journals and paywalls. Taxpayers pay for the research – taxpayers should have access to it.

The Memory Code will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in July, and by Atlantic Books in the UK and Pegasus Books in the US early next year. The audio rights have also just been sold, so I’ll update here when all the paper work has been done. Allen & Unwin are working extremely hard on my book, and I am delighted by everything they have done.

THE MEMORY CODE – TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

Chapter 1  –  Encyclopaedic memories of the elders

Chapter 2  –  Memory spaces, large and small

Chapter 3  –  Memory spaces in a modern world

Chapter 4  –  A journey through time

Chapter 5  –  The ever-changing memory spaces at Stonehenge

Chapter 6  –  The megalithic complexes of Avebury and Orkney

Chapter  7  –  Newgrange and the passage cairns of Ireland    

Chapter  8  –  The tall stones and endless rows of Carnac

Chapter 9  –  The unparalleled architecture of Chaco Canyon

Chapter  10  Giant drawings on the desert floor at Nasca

Chapter  11  Memory spaces across the Americas

Chapter  12  Polynesian navigators create a unique world on Easter Island

Epilogue

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Posted in Allen & Unwin, archaeology, carved stone balls, Chaco Canyon, Easter Island, indigenous memory systems, Memory Spaces, Nasca lines, primary orality, songlines, Stonehenge, The Memory Code | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Starting to book talks for 2016

I am just starting to book talks for this year – most will be after The Memory Code is launched on June 30. A talk in the Phee Broadway Theatre (the same location) will precede the launch by Mayor, Councillor Christine Henderson. Books will be available from Stonemans Bookroom who will be present in the Library foyer – near the nibbles and drinks! My last talk booked out. It is free, but bookings will be essential. I’ll update here when booking is available.

Tuesday 26 April, Castlemaine Garden Club: Spiders: learning to love them, Wesley Hill Market Hall, 7.30 pm. All welcome.

Wednesday 25 May, Castlemaine Rotary ClubMemory, Knowledge and Stonehenge, Cumberland Hotel, Castlemaine, 6.30 pm.

cover-The-Memory-Code-400LAUNCH of The Memory Code: Thursday 30 June, Castlemaine LibraryThe Memory Code, a talk followed by the launch. More details to follow.  6.00 pm.

Wednesday 31 August, Monash Indigenous Centre: The transmission of scientific and technical knowledge among small-scale cultures. Monash University. More details to follow.

Saturday 24 September, Sydney Skeptics DinnerThe Memory Code. More details to follow.

Saturday 26 November, Australian Skeptics Convention: The Memory Code, Melbourne University. More details to follow.

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2015 Talks

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The Memory Code has a cover

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I simply love it!

Thank you to Philip Campbell for the design. Thank you to Elizabeth Weiss and Angela Handley at Allen & Unwin for their extraordinary work on this book, including the cover.

The Memory Code will be published in July. The launch will be at the Castlemaine Library on June 30th at 6 pm, following a talk on the incredibly effective indigenous memory methods and implementing them yourself.

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The Memory Code

2016 is to be a big year. My next book, The Memory Code, is the culmination of eight years of intense work. To feel that I had the authority to make the claim that I have a new theory for the purpose of enigmatic prehistoric monuments around the world, I needed the peer review of a PhD and then the Cambridge University book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. That is all done.

The Memory Code will be published by Allen & Unwin in  July 2016 and later by Atlantic Books in the UK. The book is very different from the academic version. There is obviously less academic referencing. Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon are still prominent, but I have added more about Avebury and Orkney and a whole new chapter on the amazing stone rows and other structures at Carnac in Brittany.

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An Inca khipu, a knotted cord memory device

Interestingly, the questions after talks and in emails have often been about the actual memory methods used by indigenous cultures and how to implement them in modern life. Hence Chapter 3, Memory spaces in a modern world, came into being, explaining exactly what it is like to use these methods. I am working on My 25 Memory Experiments constantly and loving it.

The adaptability of the Inca khipu / quipu in my own experiments astounded me. That experience enabled me to better understand how the non-literate Inca managed a vast empire without writing, every bit as powerful as the contemporary cultures in the Americas, the literate Aztec and Maya. So there is now an entire chapter on the Americas, which took a lot more research. The incredible glyphs known as the Nasca Lines deserved a chapter of their own.

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Easter Island moai on the side of the mountain. (c) Ian Rowland.

Similarly, it was through further research on the Pacific cultures, that of the Pacific Navigators, the New Zealand Maori and the Rarotongans that I came to understand the critical nature of using genealogies in organising Pacific knowledge systems. That unlocked the purpose of Easter Island’s statues.

These are the chapter headings for The Memory Code:

Chapter 1 – Encyclopedic memories of the elders
Chapter 2 – Knowledge encoded in spaces large and small
Chapter 3 – Memory spaces in a modern world
Chapter 4 – A journey through time
Chapter 5 – The ever-changing memory spaces at Stonehenge
Chapter 6 – The megalithic complexes of Avebury and Orkney
Chapter 7 – Newgrange and the passage cairns of Ireland
Chapter 8 – The tall stones and endless rows of Carnac
Chapter 9 – The unparalleled architecture of Chaco Canyon
Chapter 10 – Giant drawings on the desert floor at Nasca
Chapter 11 – Memory spaces across the Americas
Chapter 12 – Polynesian navigators create a unique world on Easter Island

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Posted in Allen & Unwin, archaeology, art of memory, Chaco Canyon, Easter Island, indigenous memory systems, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, mnemonics, Nasca lines, Stonehenge, The Memory Code | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Memory Code