I am delighted to announce that The Memory Code is now available in Chinese. I have only started learning the language, so I can’t read what this says, but I am really chuffed to see this Good Publishing Co edition.
I am delighted that the Pegasus Books edition of The Memory Code is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com. Pegasus is publishing for North America (US and Canada) while Atlantic Books are publishing for the UK and Europe. Both are using the same cover and publishing initially in hardback. This is so exciting!
The discovery of a powerful memory technique used by our Neolithic ancestors in their monumental memory places―and how we can use their secrets to train our own minds
In ancient, pre-literate cultures across the globe, tribal elders had encyclopedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across a landscape, identify the stars in the sky, and recite the history of their people. Yet today, most of us struggle to memorize more than a short poem.
Using traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines as a starting point, Dr. Lynne Kelly has since identified the powerful memory technique used by our ancestors and indigenous people around the world. In turn, she has then discovered that this ancient memory technique is the secret purpose behind the great prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge, which have puzzled archaeologists for so long.
The henges across northern Europe, the elaborate stone houses of New Mexico, huge animal shapes in Peru, the statues of Easter Island―these all serve as the most effective memory system ever invented by humans. They allowed people in non-literate cultures to memorize the vast amounts of information they needed to survive. But how?
For the first time, Dr. Kelly unlocks the secret of these monuments and their uses as “memory places” in her fascinating book. Additionally, The Memory Code also explains how we can use this ancient mnemonic technique to train our minds in the tradition of our forbearers.
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:
I have now finished all the speaking engagements for the year. I am delighted with all the new friends and the wonderful feedback. The video of my talk in Brisbane last weekend should be on YouTube soon.
Although people were really interested in the new ideas about Stonehenge and other archaeological sites, I was surprised that the topic which seemed to dominate many of the question sessions – memory and the incredible memory systems used by indigenous people.
Lots and lots of people wanted to know how best they could use the memory systems themselves in everyday life. They didn’t want to memorise shuffled decks of cards like modern memory champions. Nor did they care about memorising Pi to thousands of decimal places. They want to memorise practical information as I do – the countries of the world, prehistory, history, birds …. all in my 25 memory experiments.
I know that I have so much more to explore on this topic, far more than I can accomplish in what’s left of my life. I love the idea that others are asking questions which I have never before considered. I must admit that I was really chuffed by this response from a 14 year old who had also heard Noble Prize winner (and a hero of mine) Brian Schmidt. Kristopher wrote on Facebook:
So I’m back from the Brisbane Skeptics Society convention and I am absolutely amazed at the speakers and their topics. I especially like Brian Schmidt who’s a professional astronomer and wine maker. But who amazed me the most was Dr. Lynne Kelly who is currently researching Stonehenge and the other henges around it such as wood henge. Now she only explained briefly her theory because she only had a 30 minute talk but within that half hour she completely blew my mind. But what really amazed me was that she came up to me and asked for my help in finding flaws in or adding stuff to her theory. And when I asked her if she knew if the portable tablets were just directions to the sacred sights (her theory being that Stonehenge was built to help store memory like the indigenous did in Australia) and she apparently had not and asked me to keep in contact and now I am sitting here still amazed.
I shall answer lots of the questions that I noted down after the talks here over the next few weeks. Thank you to all the audiences – every single one was great!
This blog is a response to questions from archaeologists from a talk I gave on Thursday. I addressed a crowd of over 200 at the Castlemaine Library on the topic of “Knowledge, Power and Stonehenge” based on my book. There were a number of archaeologists in the audience who were very positive in their response and have contacted me with questions that they didn’t get a chance to ask. Here are two of the questions:
Q: Last night you only briefly referred to the new stone arrangement reported from Durrington Walls. Can you expand on the way you see this setting fitting with the dichotomy you argued is seen in mnemonic monuments all over the world? (See the post below this one for more details of the new findings.)
In monuments used primarily for memory purposes, I am always looking for ordered sequences of stones, posts or mounds to replicate the sequence of landscape sites used by mobile cultures. When they get to city size and clear hierarchies, my theory no longer holds.
The ethnographic record from small-scale oral cultures all over the world is unequivocal. There are always both public and restricted performance sites in which knowledge is taught and exchanged. The restricted sites are essential for two reasons (among others): to retain power for those initiated into the higher levels of the knowledge system and to avoid the so-called ‘Chinese whispers’ effect. Knowledge is corrupted if it is shared willy-nilly. Knowledge needed to survive severe resource stress, for example, is always held at the highest restricted levels. In the Australian mobile hunter-gatherer case, the public / restricted performance site dichotomy can be seen with the public corroboree grounds and highly restricted bora grounds. In Pueblo cultures, between plazas and kivas. And so on.
In terms of the Stonehenge / Durrington Walls complex of monuments: Stonehenge became a highly restricted site when the huge sarsens arrived about 500 years into its use and everything was enclosed in the centre. At the same time, the superhenge Durrington Walls was built, giving a new public performance space. There was also a fairly restricted set of posts near Durrington Walls, known as Woodhenge.
The news a few days ago reported that at Durrington Walls a sequence of up to 90 standing stones had been found around the edge of the henge. This is exactly the sort of sequence of memory locations I am finding all over the world. The Durrington stones appear, from the reports available, to be separated so that each is encountered singly, as required for memory locations. This gives a much more defined public memory site at Durrington Walls than it was before, with restricted sites at Woodhenge, and even more restricted at Stonehenge. This complex works as a single site. Stonehenge alone won’t fit the theory I outlined at the talk and in the book.
Q: I understood from your talk that you believed that the memory techniques used were a product of evolutionary convergence and different societies developed these methods separately, not that they are 60,000 odd years old and left Africa at the same time as humans; what is your basis for that position?
I confused you! Sorry! I believe that the human ability to memorise in this way probably dates to at least 60,000 years ago and is a critical part of human evolution – but I haven’t done that research thoroughly enough to claim that yet. There were evolutionary biologists in the audience who are very excited about this aspect and love what I am saying.
It is the implementation using sequences of posts, stones or mounds for sets of sequenced memory locations which I believe was developed independently. These monument types don’t appear in the archaeological record until the last 10,000 years or so. I think the evidence is there for the landscape being used as a sequenced set of memory locations for much longer than 10,000 years, but it is the specific implementation of the method locally on settlement which I believe has been developed by different societies independently.
The posts circles in the plaza at the mound site of Poverty Point in Louisiana, for example, weren’t copied from the British Neolithic despite their similarity in dimensions and the separation of the posts to stone and post circles in the British Neolithic. They developed this implementation because it is an incredibly effective method (the method of loci) that has never been bettered, and we all share the same brain structures.
I have been asked where people can hear me talk about indigenous memory systems and my theories about prehistoric monuments including Stonehenge. Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies has only just been published by Cambridge University Press in the US and UK and is still a month or so away from being published here in Australia.
Saturday / Sunday 22-24 May 2015: Archaeology of Portable Objects Symposium, Primary Orality and Portable Objects. Australian National University, Canberra. An academic conference – already been and enjoyed immensely.
Friday 12 June 2015: Castlemaine Fields Naturalists, Indigenous knowledge of plants and animals: how do they remember so much stuff without a field guide? Castlemaine Fields Nats. Write up on the presentation on the Connecting Country website. 7.30 pm.
Friday 3 July 2015: Launch, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, LaTrobe University Bookroom, Bundoora. 12 midday.
Saturday 8 August 2015: Bendigo Writers Festival, Author, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. Bendigo. Website: Bendigo Writers Festival.
Saturday, 15 August, Riddells Creek Landcare AGM, How did Aboriginal Australians manage their knowledge of plants and animals critical to their survival? What does this tell us about ancient monuments like Stonehenge?, Dromkeen, 1012 Gisborne-Kilmore Rd, Riddells Creek Vic, 3 pm.
Thursday, 10 September 2015: Castlemaine Library, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, 6 pm.
Wednesday, 16 September 2015: Kyneton Freethinkers, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, Albion Hotel meeting room, Kyneton. 7.30 pm.
Sunday, 20 September 2015: Newstead Science Matters, Why did the Neolithic Brits build Stonehenge? Newstead Community Centre. Details to follow.
Thursday, 8 October 2015: Kororoit Institute/Melbourne Emergence Special Public Meetup, University of Melbourne,The emergence of formal knowledge management systems in prehistory, more details to follow.
Friday – Sunday, 16-18 October 2015: Australian Skeptics National Convention, Memory spaces: adding rational intellect to Stonehenge, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Convention website and program is here.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
To 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.