The advance copies arrive

arrival-day

The wonderful moment when I first hold the book which represents years of obsessive pleasure.

Thank you to LaTrobe University, my PhD supervisor Professor Sue Martin, Cambridge University Press, family, friends and most of all, my husband, Damian. All that work to get the PhD was so very worth it.

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeology, Cambridge University Press, carved stone balls, indigenous memory systems, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, memory, mnemonics, Poverty Point, primary orality, stone circles, Stonehenge, writing non-fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Launch – Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies

cover-amazon

The launch date of my book has been set. Exciting times ahead. Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture will be launched:

On: Friday 3 July, 2015, 12 midday.

At: LaTrobe University Co-op Bookshop

By: Professor Susan K Martin, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce (who was also my supervisor)

Published by: Cambridge University Press. More details on their site: here.

I would love to see family, friends and colleagues there.

 

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in Cambridge University Press, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, Memory Spaces, prehistory, primary orality, Stonehenge | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Launch – Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies

Primary orality and portable objects

Portable-art-440

I am presenting a paper, Primary orality and portable objects, at the Archaeology of Portable Art conference at the Australian National University in Canberra, 23rd – 24th May 2015. The program looks fantastic – Click on the above image or here.

I’ll be talking about Australian and Pacific indigenous portable art which is known to act as memory aids. I’ll then be showing that the same topologies can be found in the British Neolithic. In particular, I’ll be comparing the form and contexts of Scottish carved stone balls and the Stonehenge chalk plaques and arguing that they, too, were mnemonic devices.

11-4-csb-six-many-towie-bw

Scottish carved stone balls: six knobbed, many knobbed and the famous Towie ball

From my book Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: (c) Damian Kelly

The abstract of my paper:

The body of research on primary orality describes the way non-literate cultures manage to memorise vast stores of information when they have no recourse to writing. This research has rarely been applied in archaeological interpretation of ceremonial sites created by non-literate cultures. My research has expanded the field of primary orality to include material artefacts including decorated portable objects.

This paper will generalise the way portable objects from Australian and Pacific contexts have been used as mnemonic devices to encode pragmatic information including animal classifications and behaviour, plant properties, navigation, genealogies and astronomy along with resource rights and management. It will then address the way in which this understanding can be applied in the archaeological interpretation of prehistoric sites.

Recognition of the importance of indigenous art in oral knowledge systems is well known within archaeologies that are informed by indigenous input. However, the invaluable ethnographic analogies on offer have not been exploited in archaeological interpretation of British and Irish Neolithic sites.

In particular, this paper will take the generalisations from an ethnographic analysis of portable art to offer new insights into portable objects such as the enigmatic Stonehenge chalk plaques and Scottish carved stone balls.

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeology, Australian Aboriginal, carved stone balls, indigenous memory systems, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, Memory Spaces, mnemonics, orality, primary orality, Stonehenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s finished – a strange feeling of loss

I have sent back the page proofs. I have done the last correction. After seven years of nurturing my baby every day, there is nothing more I can do. The book is now completely under the control of Cambridge University Press and I have no more say in it.

cover-amazon

I have checked it and checked it, yet I know I will have missed something. There are just too many words and ideas and I am so prone to mistakes. I read what I meant to write and not what is actually on the page.

Confession time: I had an indigenous ceremony in Australia being traded across 16,000 km, when that far would get it to England. I had Julius Caesar arriving in England in the first Century AD instead of BC. How can it have gone through so many checks and I not have noticed those serious mistakes? Those sentences were in the thesis and every version of the manuscript. What else have I missed?

The next time I shall see those words is when I have the book in front of me, sometime before the publication date of 30 June 2015. Then it will go out into the world. People may love it. But they also may hate it and critics may attack it mercilessly and there is nothing I can do. Archaeologists may argue with my ideas, but that is fine. It means it has been read and that it is contributing to the debate. All ideas are refined by others over time.

Now I just wait.

(Oh, and work on Ancient Memory Spaces for the mainstream market!)

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in Cambridge University Press, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, prehistory, primary orality, writing non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on It’s finished – a strange feeling of loss

Orality – why it is so important for prehistoric archaeologists

Primary orality is what you have when you don’t have literacy.

It is often commented that prehistoric cultures didn’t leave a written record. What is almost never mentioned is that cultures which had no contact with writing did have an alternative. They had orality. Most aspects of orality have been literally overwritten by writing, but they do leave a trace in the archaeological record.

Oral cultures employ a wide range of techniques to retain a vast amount of information in memory because they don’t write it down. The research on primary orality talks about the way song, stories, dance and mythology encode vast stores of information in memorable forms.

What is important for archaeologists is that primary oral cultures also used material devices to aid memory: from the landscape and art through an incredible range of enigmatic portable objects. It is these material signs which can be detected in the archaeological record.

lukasa-Brooklyn_Museum

Lukasa from the Brooklyn Museum

For example, the African Luba use a memory board known as a lukasa, among many mnemonic devices. It is used in a very similar way to the Australian churinga/tjuringa. These devices are restricted to knowledgeable elders. Their prehistoric equivalent should be found in ceremonial sites, but almost never in domestic settings.

Songs, dances, stories and mythological representations are not simply for entertainment nor are they purely superstitious. They are an essential way of recording masses of pragmatic information. Performance spaces should exhibit a public/restricted dichotomy as is found in all indigenous cultures.

It is too often assumed that knowledge is simply handed on through stories told around the campfire or casually taught, parent to child, out on the daily gather and hunt. In years of research, I have never found a single culture which operated that way. All cultures teach in formal settings – oral and literate.

2015_Garma_Poster_Yolngu_V2To understand the nature of orality, I started with some of the oldest continuous cultures on the planet, the 300 or so Australian Aboriginal language groups.

The Yolngu of Arnhem Land share their knowledge at the annual Garma Festival. They offer some of the best understanding of orality because they have explained it on their terms.

Indigenous survival depends on masses of practical knowledge. There are many commonalities about the memory methods used by oral cultures from the mobile Australian to the more sedentary Native American, African and Pacific cultures.

It is those commonalities which can offer another tool for archaeologists interpreting ancient ceremonial sites: orality.

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeologists, archaeology, Australian Aboriginal, indigenous memory systems, lukasa, memory, Memory Spaces, mnemonics, mythology, orality, prehistory, primary orality, Yolngu | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

English Heritage interactive map of Stonehenge

Stonehenge absolutely fascinates me. Why did they build it?

Stonehenge changed over time and included a lot more than just the familiar sarsen ring and trilithons. English Heritage have an interactive map which allows you to look around the site from before Stonehenge was built to the present. It shows the linked monuments, especially Durrington Walls and Woodhenge. There’s a lot more on the site, especially for those who need an introduction to the archaeology.

Just click on the image and you’ll be there!

English Heritage Interactive Map of Stonehenge

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeology, stone circles, Stonehenge | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Archaeological interpretation needs to include knowledge systems

ancient-cult-sites

I am not denying that ancient people, like many modern people, believed in lots of superstitions. What I am arguing as loudly as I can is that they wouldn’t have survived without a massive store of practical information. All my ethnographic research points to the memorising of pragmatic knowledge was, and in some cases still is, a critical practice of non-literate cultures at their ‘ritual sites’.

The report is about really interesting sites in Israel and the quality of the archaeology is obviously superb. I just have one small niggle.

Reports, such as the one linked above, invariably talk about cults and fertility rites and death rituals but never about knowledge systems. My research shows clearly that a large proportion of esoteric rituals serve to repeat the knowledge on which survival depends – vast stores of animal and plant information, navigational knowledge, geology, water sources, laws, weather and seasonal indicators and so on. People aren’t only interested in sex and dying.

The descriptions given in this article fit all that I would expect from a knowledge sites, they describe restricted spaces, reference to the landscape, a great deal of effort without obvious reason, decorated objects, evidence of sequence and space for performances. Each small group would require these knowledge spaces, with clusters representing those used for larger gatherings.

In Australian Aboriginal terms, these are referred to as bora grounds and corroboree sites. Evidence from all of the 300 or so language groups in Australia is that the transfer of practical knowledge was key to the purpose of these sites.

I long for my book to be published so archaeologists and others can evaluate my ideas:

Knowledge and power in prehistoric societies: orality, memory and the transmission of cultures, Cambridge University Press, June 2015.

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeology, cult sites, indigenous memory systems, Israel, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, Memory Spaces, orality, primary orality, ritual sites | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

That wonderful moment when the book is real

It is the moment that I see a book’s cover that I know it is real and all the work has been worth it. I don’t have an advance copy yet, but Cambridge University Press have put it on Amazon and a host of other sites for pre-order.

cover-amazon

The full title is Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture. I am really proud to have my book come out with Cambridge University Press. They have been wonderful to work with in every aspect.

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in Cambridge University Press, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, primary orality, Stonehenge | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on That wonderful moment when the book is real

Primary orality – what is it?

‘Primary orality’ is all about the way societies communicate and store information when they have no contact whatsoever with writing. If they don’t have literacy, they do have orality.

Orality is an information technology, a tool which increases the ability of humans to store and process information. It is simply extraordinary how much can be memorised using orality.

Indigenous cultures stored vast amounts of knowledge about the thousand or so animals and just as many plants in the various habitats they knew intimately. The Navajo, for example, stored a classification of over 700 insects along with habitats, behaviour, identification and metaphor for human behaviour. And that’s just insects. Then there’s navigation, geology, genealogies …  the list goes on and on.

How on earth did they memorise so much stuff? That’s what primary orality is all about.

The oral encyclopaedia was (and in some cases, still is) woven into stories, vivid imaginative sung narratives, with the specific information often associated with characters within the story. Thousands of stories integrated with spiritual beliefs were kept in mythological form, constantly repeated to ensure they were not forgotten. 

George_Catlin-The_Bear_Dance

The Bear Dance, painted by George Caitlin, 1844

Most significantly, knowledge is performed; songs, dances and mythological reenactments being far more memorable than facts stored in prose. Hence the research on primary orality always includes mythology as a mnemonic form, while acknowledging the substantial spiritual role.

My research adds material memory aids – mnemonic devices – to the topic of primary orality. It is through these physical devices, along with public and restricted performance spaces, that we can link primary orality to the archaeological record.

My Cambridge University Press book on the topic is now available for pre-order on Amazon and lots of other places.

cover-amazon

Share on Share on FacebookPin on PinterestPrint this pageTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Posted in archaeology, memory, Memory Spaces, mythology, orality, primary orality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment