Spanish “Stonehenge”

There are so many sites nicknamed with the tag “Stonehenge” that I have not had time to explore them all. When the “Spanish Stonehenge” hit the news in recent weeks, I was pointed to the reports by many readers of The Memory Code. They could all see so many of the signs that this site was used as a memory palace, a restricted knowledge site.

Many pointed me to the article linked to the image above, 5,000-Year-Old Temple Emerges from Underwater in Spain by Ashley Cowie in Ancient Origins.

People see the same properties as Stonehenge in monuments well separated in space and time because there is one single common factor and that is the way the human brain memorizes information.

The Spanish Stonehenge is more likely a dolmen than an open circle – that is a covered, restricted space. I explain in The Memory Code why restricted spaces are essential for elders to retain accurate information over long time spans. That is why all non-literate cultures have them. Labelling a site as a “temple” leads to assumptions that the space had a single religious purpose, and often that its primary purpose was for burial. Indigenous cultures do not separate the spiritual from the mundane. It is Eurocentric thinking which limits interpreting the purpose of monuments to religious and the ubiquitous ‘ritual’ purposes.

Cultures without writing are dependent on memory to store all their knowledge. Without exception, every indigenous culture I studied right around the world used a similar range of memory techniques. These have evolved everywhere because they match the way the human brain stores information, as described in Memory Craft. We are all working with the same brain structure.

Memory palaces are the most effective mnemonic technology known and used in some form by non-literate cultures across the world. In a memory palace, information is associated with each location in sequence. The engravings within the dolmen, on each of the megaliths, would create a perfect memory palace.

Dolmens are assumed to be burial places. Although burial may be one purpose, all non-literate cultures use restricted performance spaces for initiated elders to ensure knowledge is preserved accurately, especially pan-generational knowledge of survival strategies in time of severe resource stress. The few remains, if any, found in most dolmens, would indicate a location for an elite, such as the knowledge elders. Knowledge and power correlated in oral cultures.

Restricting the songs and stories which encode information avoids corruption of data caused by the so-called Chinese whispers effect. A combination of public and restricted performance spaces is implied here by the open and restricted spaces. This combination is found in oral cultures around the world.

Placement of ceremonial structures near rivers is also a constant all over the world. Large gatherings need water and food, trade routes, while rivers are critical landscape features. Vivid stories, as represented in mythology, are a fundamental method for making abstract and mundane information memorable. Without a continuous culture linked to the monument, there is no justification for interpreting the engraving as a serpent, as a protector.

The idea that such monuments are “thought to have been temples of sun worship” because of astronomical alignments is also demeaning to indigenous cultures. The term ‘worship’ implies that non-literate cultures live in a fog of superstition. They simply would not have survived if that was the case. All the cultures I researched, and talked with, were hugely pragmatic and used the movement of the sun to create a calendar to ensure optimum use of resources and maintain their ceremonial cycle. That is not to deny a spiritual aspect, but to deny an exclusively sacred purpose. Ceremonies are an imperative to ensure practical and cultural information is performed regularly so that it is retained and conveyed.

The idea reported that the elongated wavy engraving on the megalith at the entrance corresponds to the passage of the Tagus River is a very exciting development. A map of the river is exactly what would be expected. We have ample evidence from Australia, where we have a continuous oral culture dating back about 60 000 years, that art was often used as a memory aid to maps. The same can be found in cultures from Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.

One of those who wrote to me was Alyssa McMurtry, who also wrote Drought Has Revealed Spain’s Long-Submerged ‘Stonehenge’: Up close with the 7,000-year-old Dolmen of Guadalperal for Atlas Obscura.

Alyssa interviewed Angel Castano, the local historian. She told me:

From what he had previously learned about the menhir at the entrance, there was a snake carved into it that was assumed to be a serpent guarding treasures. Since that was a dominant theory, that’s what he was telling the media when the dolmen first emerged from the water. But after seeing the actual stone and consulting with the original drawings made by German archeologists who discovered it in the 20s, he figured he’d have to close an eye, spin around and use a whole lot of imagination to see a snake in the carving. However, in looking at what was supposed to be the snake, his intuition told him that it may be the Tajo River. He rushed to find an old map of the area before the river had been flooded, and just last night he realized that the squiggly line, once considered a snake, corresponds virtually “100%” with the course of the river. Below is an image he sent me using an old map and the original archeologists drawing of the menhir! I told him your theory and he liked it a lot. Although still unproven, I think his idea of it being a map, not an unjustified protector as you say, goes to show that when approaching indigenous artifacts from the lense of “how was this actually practical, how did it help them survive?” you can come up with a lot more compelling (and interesting) answers than assuming it’s all kooky religious nonsense!

Love it, Alyssa!

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Posted in archaeology, Dolmen de Guadalperal, indigenous memory systems, memory, Memory Craft, memory methods, memory palace, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mythology, Neolithic, Spanish Stonehenge, stone circles, The Memory Code, The Memory Whisperer | 2 Comments

Memory Craft – now in audio

I am delighted that the audiobook of Memory Craft is now published. It is available from Booktopia and Amazon.com.au (Australia) and Amazon.com for overseas, plus many other locations. The PDF for the images can be downloaded here.

Memory Craft audiobook

The audio book had the usual lovely boost on publication. Thank you so much to those who pre-ordered and gave it the lovely #1 Best Seller (in a category) icon! It would be lovely if it stayed there! (Image links to Amazon.com.au:

The book was read by actress Louise Siversen who also recorded The Memory Code. Many people thought it was me reading, she sounds similar. The difference is that she sounds professional! I went to the Wavesound studios to meet Louise and discuss pronunciation details. She is an absolute delight and I am very proud that she agreed to do Memory Craft.

The photo is of Louise and me in the studio.

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The Bestiary and Visual Alphabet

The Bestiary and Visual Alphabet is finally ready for purchase in printed or e-book format. All information in The Memory Whisperer Shop. It includes 73 original art works in high resolution and instructions of how to use for memorising names, lists, speeches and anything which uses words.

The Bestiary and Visual Alphabet

This book offers two totally new memory devices based on medieval memory techniques. The Visual Alphabet is the starting point, a sequence of animals and human characters. It is used to make information memorable by adding vivid images to whatever you are trying to remember. The sequence is perfect for memorising speeches, lists or anything where the order is important.

A double page from The Bestiary
A double page from the Visual Alphabet
The printed version is a little A6 book, just right to carry around.

The much more extensive Bestiary is used for memorising anything which uses words, especially people’s names. The Visual Alphabet gives a starting point for the first letter of a name, but the Bestiary offers the first two letters, so is a much more effective memory prompt. By imagining the beast interacting with the person as you chat, you will create an image which will point you to the name whenever you need it.

Presented with dubious quality poetry to look medieval, The Bestiary and Visual Alphabet is a practical memory tool for every day use.

Instructions from the book:

This memory aid starts with a medieval idea, the Visual Alphabet. This sequence of creatures gives a sequence of pegs with which to associate your information. You will always get them in order.

The spider goddess Arachne throws her web over the Bird who is being attacked by the Cat being burnt by the Dragon who is also burning the Eagle who is just about to eat the Frog resting on the horn of a Goat being attacked by a Hydra. The Hydra is attacking an Imp who is attempting to kick the hat off a Jester who is attacking a Kitten just about to be eaten by a Lion. On the tail of the Lion hangs a little Marmoset who is secretly being watched by a Neanderthal linked by vine to an Owl who is being stalked by a Panther. The tail of said Panther and Quetzalcoatl are tangled as the feathered serpent attacks a Rat sitting on a Skull being bitten by a Toucan sitting on the tail of a Unicorn. Escaping all this mayhem, the Unicorn has a Vulture resting on its horn. He is eyeing off the Wombat who is being attacked by Xena the warrior woman standing on the horns of a Yak just about to be zapped by Zeus.

This list can be used to memorise anything with a sequence such as a speech, list of winners or even your shopping. It can also be used to memorise people’s names. Just note the letter that starts their name and associate that creature with the person in front of you. You may need to make further links to get the rest of the name if you don’t think the single letter will be enough.

As lots of names start with Ma or Ja or St, for example, you will do far better to associate the beast with the first two letters of the name using The Bestiary, based on the mediaeval books designed to memorise virtues and vices. You don’t need to remember the whole 264 at a single go. Just add in those you need gradually. Meanwhile, if you don’t know the relevant beast, use the Visual Alphabet.

As my artwork may well be insufficient for you to identify the beast I have added poetry, of sorts, to include its name. There were many letter combinations for which I could not find any beast and so became creative (or desperate).

The purpose of my Bestiary, fortunately, is not to be a great work of art nor of poetry. It is merely to be memorable and fun.

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Asking help from Classical Music buffs

During a discussion on the Art of Memory Forum, it was suggested that existing artworks could be used as miniature memory palaces. Indigenous cultures have used art as mnemonic, as was also the practice in medieval times.

I decided to test the idea using Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The Wikipedia entry gives 80 games as shown, so there are 80 obvious locations possible.

I have decided to encode classical composers. I have just started to listen to a lot more classical music than before, but know very little about the topic. Below is a list of 100 composers since the Baroque. I really want to concentrate on far fewer than that, but I don’t know enough to reduce the list.

I need help eliminating at least 20, preferably more, so I am left with a list of the composers I should listen to, and read about, in order to gain a reasonable knowledge of the classical masterpieces.

So could I please have help reducing the list? Who can I eliminate at the stage without missing out on the major composers? Is there anyone missing?

Baroque Period: 1600–1750
1 Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
2 Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725)
3 Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1750)
4 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
5 Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
6 Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764)
7 Giuseppe Matteo Alberti (1685–1751)
8 George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
9 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
10 Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)
11 Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758)
12 Jean Jacques-Christophe Naudot (1690–1762)
13 Johann Adolph Hasse (1699–1783)
Classical Period: 1750–1820
14 Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784)
15 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
16 Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714–1787)
17 Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (1719–1787)
18 Johann Ernst Bach (1722–1777)
19 Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727–1756)
20 Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1806)
21 Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795)
22 Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782)
23 Antonio Salieri (1750–1825)
24 Muzio Clementi (1752–1832)
25 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
26 Franz Xaver Sussmayr (1766–1803)
27 Bedrich Dionys Weber (1766–1842)
28 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770–1827)
29 Niccolo Paganini (1782–1840)
30 Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826)
31 Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868)
32 Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
33 Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797–1848)
Romantic Period: 1820-1900
34 Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835)
35 Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803–1869)
36 Johann Strauss I (1804–1849)
37 Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
38 Frederic Chopin (1810–1849)
39 Robert Alexander Schumann (1810–1856)
40 Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
41 Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
42 Giuseppe Fortunino Frencesco Verdi (1813–1901)
43 Charles François Gounod (1818–1893)
44 Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880)
45 Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896)
46 Cesar Franck (1822–1890)
47 Anton Joseph Bruckner (1824–1896)
48 Johann Strauss II (1825–1899)
49 Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
50 Eduard Strauss (1835–1916)
51 Georges Bizet (1838–1875)
52 Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
53 Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
54 Antonín Dvorak (1841–1904)
55 Jules Massenet (1842–1912)
56 Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843–1907)
57 Gabriel-Urbain Fauré (1845–1924)
58 Sir Edward William Elgar (1857– 1934)
59 Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
60 Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
61 Achille-Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
62 Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
63 Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
64 Erik Satie (1866–1925)
65 Siegfried Wagner (1869–1930)
66 Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin (1872–1915)
67 Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
68 Sergei Vasilievitch Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)
69 Arnold Franz Walter Schoenberg (1874–1951)
70 Gustav Theodore Holst (1874–1934)
71 Charles Edward Ives (1874–1954)
72 Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
73 Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
74 Artur Schnabel (1882–1951)
75 Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
76 Zóltan Kodály (1882–1967)
77 Anton Friedrich Wilhelm von Webern (1883–1945)
78 Alban Berg (1885–1935)
79 Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofieff (1891–1953)
20th Century: 1900–present
80 George Gershwin (1898–1937)
81 Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
82 Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899–1974)
83 Maurice Durufle (1902–1986)
84 Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903–1989)
85 Eduard Tubin (1905–1982)
86 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
87 Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)
88 Samuel Barber (1910–1981)
89 William Howard Schuman (1910–1992)
90 Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007)
91 Jean Françaix (1912–)
92 Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
93 Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918–1970)
94 Ernest Tomlinson (1924–2015)
95 Peter Lamb (1925–2013)
96 Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007)
97 William Mathias (1934–1992)
98 Arvo Part (1935–)
99 John Rutter (1945–)
100 Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948–)

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Memory Craft – I have the advance copy!

I am so excited that the advance copy of Memory Craft has arrived. Details of the contents can be found here!

Only a few weeks now until the June 3 publication by Allen & Unwin.

The launch will be help at Castlemaine Library at 5:30 pm on June 13. To be launched by Dr Duane Hamacher, with talk on memory methods. Booking will be available through their website very soon. If you are coming to the launch and want to join us for dinner afterwards, please contact me through the contact form and I’ll let you know what’s happening.

Memory Craft is available for pre-order through Book Depository (world wide) and Booktopia (Australia only) among others.

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Long corridors as memory palaces

Corridors are perfect to use as memory palaces – once they are decorated in a structured way. So why do we waste the corridors in schools and universities when they could become such valuable spaces? Usually, if there are any decorations, they are just nice pictures or random posters.

I was pointed to the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace in Beijing by a reader of The Memory Code. It is a superb use of a corridor as a memory palace.

Click on the image below to go to the Wikipedia entry about it.


I finally found a book showing the images and simply adore it. This covered walkway is found in the Summer Palace in Beijing. It dates from the middle of the 18th century. At 728 metres long, it is decorated with more than 14,000 gorgeous paintings. These tell stories – the entire structure acting as a sensational memory palace.


Why not use school and university spaces as memory palaces?

Instead of numbering rooms as dull old 1, 2, 3 … why not 5000 BC, 4000 BC, 3000 BC … and use the spaces between for images suiting that time period. Students will recall where they saw Stonehenge, for example, and associate it with the area around 5000 BC. Or number the rooms for the last few hundred years and illustrate more recent events chronologically?

How about naming the rooms by letter a, b, c … and add images for the words in a foreign language? Or new words in English?

Why not have the students do the images in art? All indigenous cultures integrate art as a key component of the knowledge system. Our even include small videos recording songs composed by students to store knowledge? The ever changing display will attract attention.

It is well known in educational circles that taking information in one form, say writing, and adapting it to another form, say images or music, makes it more memorable. You need to concentrate and know the information well to creatively adapt it. The only limits are imagination – and schools all have art and music teachers and a mob of creative types who can help set the imaginations of students on a wild spree.

A memory palace must be structured – not just an array of paintings or a set of songs. Without structure it is just another gallery display.

And while we are at it – why not use the school grounds as memory palaces as well – just like the Australian Aboriginal songlines and Native American pilgrimage trails? And none of this needs funding! We can do all of this within the art and music curricula as well as meeting the requirements for every subject in the school. We just need to stop separating knowledge into neat little packages – we need to integrate it.

But what I really want is my very own Long Corridor just like the one in the Summer Palace. Please!

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My TEDx talk is now live

Click on the image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9kpJtHI8jQ

TEDxMelbourne’s description:

Today, we explore whether memory still has a practical place in the world of big data and computing.

As a science writer, Lynne has written 18 books including The Memory Code. Her research showed that without writing, people used the most extraordinary suite of memory techniques to memorise massive amounts of practical information. This explains the purpose of monuments like Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines and the statues of Easter Island. Her next book, Unlocking The Memory Code explains the most effective memory methods from around the world and throughout time. Lynne shows how these can be invaluable in modern world. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

P.S. The next book is now called Memory Craft, but there was only the working title then!

Allen & Unwin’s description is here:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/self-help-practical/Memory-Craft-Lynne-Kelly-9781760633059



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2018 Australian Memory Championships

I have been very slack in writing this blog. Apologies. I have been finishing my new book, Memory Craft, to be published on June 3, 2019. I have just completed the editing process with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, something I find very stressful and demanding. But it has finally gone to the typesetters. The final manuscript will be sent to me in a week or so for indexing and then it is done. My baby will be sent out into the world.

I competed in the Australian Memory Championships for a second time in November 2018, despite my writing in The Memory Code that I could never do it. But yet again, I found the pressure difficult to handle. By the end of the second day of competition, my brain was mush and my nerves frayed.

The competition was run by the IAM (International Association of Memory) and organised by Tansel Ali. There were ten events, including memorising shuffled decks of cards and long lists of numbers, both integers and binary. We memorised pages of names to match faces, dates of imagined events, images in order and lists of words. And all under strict time limits. It is really high pressure and I don’t handle pressure well at all.

Motoro Ohno

We had international guests, competitors from Japan, China and Indonesia. The entire competition was won by Motoro Ohno from Japan (pictured right).

The Japanese team was led by Takeru Aoki (at right in the picture below). Also part of the team was Hiroshi Abe (on the left).

Hiroshi is a Senior (over 60) and came with the express purpose of competing with me. He is higher in the IAM (International Association of Memory) rankings, and rightly so. But these competitions have a harsh side with the scoring. A mistake in a row of numbers of the suit of a card and you can end up with a score of zero for the row or the card trial. You need to make a decision. Do you go for speed and risk accuracy or take the careful way out and go slower, hoping to be more accurate.

Hiroshi Abe (Japan, Senior), Lynne Kelly (Australia, Senior) and Takeru Oaki (Japan, Open)

Knowing I don’t handle pressure well, I went far slower than I do in training, but was mostly accurate. Hiroshi was faster but had some accuracy slips and ended up scoring a few zeros. But the end of the competition, I had beaten him comfortably. I would not have managed it had he been on form!

I was the top Australian Senior again.

The Australian Memory Champion for the last two years, Anastasia Woolmer, was unable to compete due to illness. I was really disappointed to miss spending time with her again. She would have had tough competition from Zeshaan Khokhar who took the 2018 Australian Memory Champion title.

Lynne Kelly ( Australian, Senior), Zeshaan Khokhar (2018 Australian Memory Champion).

I now do most of my training on Memory League, a really fun way for anyone who wants to start playing around with memory competitions.

You can compete against others at your level, but I just compete with myself. Click on the images to try it out. You need to register but the first levels are free.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is memory-league-logo.jpg
The training screen. There are five events: cards, images, names, numbers and words.

All help for getting started is available through the super-friendly associated forum at Art Of Memory https://forum.artofmemory.com.

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The Memory Code in Czech (and a new tag)

I am delighted to announce that The Memory Code is now available in Czech – alongside the English and Chinese editions. Click on the image for the link to this site where there are more details. If I could read Czech I could tell you more.

I eagerly await the day when I will hold a copy in my hand.

I also look forward to being able to get a good resolution on the cover image. All good fun.

Oh, and my publisher has started referring to me as The Memory Whisperer. She is referring to the role I play in the next book, due out in 2019. I wonder if that will stick!

We still don’t have a title for the new book even though it is written and in the editing and production phase. Things move slowly in publishing.

 

 

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