The theft of a Zimbabwean heritage

“… the feeling of realising that just because your culture had no written text does not mean they did not pass down large amounts of knowledge is revolutionary.”

The above was in an email from Fadzai which brought tears to my eyes. If she was the only reader of The Memory Code, it would have been worth all the work. It was a privilege to meet Fadzai and her daughter in London in February.

This is her story.


This evening I made a journey from Watford (near London) to Birmingham and I decided to listen to an audiobook to alleviate the tedium. I am hoping to improve my ‘artificial memory ‘ and find usable techniques to permanently remember large amounts of information, not just party tricks like decks of cards. It was in that hope that I downloaded ‘The Memory Code’ (using Audible). I have just arrived in Birmingham, so am nowhere near finished but I felt I had to write to you. I am so excited! I am excited not only because what you write about could be of practical use, but also because you reveal some profound truths.

I am from Zimbabwe and have very little, and only surface knowledge of my culture. It was systematically destroyed, partly by belittling it. It has been drummed into generations that before the English came we were dirty, stupid, illiterate (not non-literate) savages. Our ‘witch doctors ‘ peddled superstitious nonsense, our dances showed us to be licentious and the missionaries told us many of our practices were demonic.

When my grandmother died she said to make sure nothing ‘traditional’ was done at her funeral to be sure nothing ‘satanic’ happened so she could make it to the Christian heaven. Now as I approach middle age, I find out that there is more to it. Now you write and show that the fact we did not write things down, or invent central heating does not mean we are stupid. We had our own ways. Sadly they are largely lost but as you say, our forefathers would have died out long ago if they were stupid. And the fact that I have the same DNA but not the same knowledge shows that it is not some sort of ‘instinctual knowledge’ as was explained to put us almost on the level of animals. …

One of my favourite books is called Tigana. It is of the fantasy genre and not likely to win any literary acclaim but it affected me deeply. (Sorry to give a spoiler!) In a magical war, one prominent city was defeated and most of its population killed. The true pain was that the entire memory of the place was removed from the consciousness of everyone else. It became as if the city of Tigana had never existed. The vanquished king and the few survivors had to witness this, and though once from a great city they were now considered to be vagabond itinerants. I feel empathy for the characters because those events seem analogous to Zimbabwe’s fate, and the fate of many other oral cultures. Because, as you pointed out, the initiated are gone, the stories, histories and knowledge is also largely gone, only intermittent patches of these survive in a limited form. …

My maternal grandfather was a minister in the Dutch Reformed church, and as you can imagine of a minister’s daughter, my mother brought us up in a very religious way. … The family apparently adopted their surname some generations prior, when they adopted Christianity, to signify ‘they had now overcome death’. My paternal grandfather’s father (I believe) was the first to embrace Christianity. Their previous surname means ‘many deaths/many funerals’. There was apparently a curse on the family wherein for generations, the firstborn son of the family would always die as a child. My father, their firstborn son, was named ‘Tichaona’, which literally means ‘We shall see’. As in ‘We shall see if adopting Christianity lifts the curse’. He is still going strong in his sixties. My father’s survival was taken as evidence of the power of Christianity and cemented my Grandmother’s Christian faith and led her to funeral request. Many in Zimbabwe ‘hedge their bets’ and have both traditional and Christian rituals for funerals and it is a point of pride in the family that she did this. I never got to know her, unfortunately, even though my middle name is her name. We lived abroad for many years, and when I met her as a pre-teen, she had recently suffered a stroke and I was scared of her. I avoided being near her and she died in my late teens. I am deeply ashamed of this now, and although I have forgiven my younger self, it will not bring back her stories. She named my father’s first born son. My brother’s name is ‘Tinashe’, it is almost a talisman, warding off the evil eye and any curses, as it means ‘We have God here’.

I only speak Shona as a second language and often find it hard to understand. My parents did this with the best of intentions, they felt that by not teaching me Shona they would be putting me and my siblings at an advantage. My mum and dad would speak to each other in Shona, we would join in the conversation in English, speaking to each other in English. I know they were well-intentioned, but the result has been that I am a stranger in the Shona community as well as a stranger in the English one and am a perpetual observer, with no place that I ‘belong’.

Listening to your theory about Stonehenge and the oral mnemonics has opened up something in me. I cannot express it. The trendy phrase ‘paradigm shift’ feels a bit inauthentic, but the feeling of realising that just because your culture had no written text does not mean they did not pass down large amounts of knowledge is revolutionary. I once watched ‘Roots’ where Kunta Kinte had a genealogist recite a long list of his African ancestors, but I understood it to be some sort of ‘trick’ or ‘quirk’ not suggestive of a system of retention of knowledge.

Some general Zimbabwean cultural information you may find of interest if you do not already know it.

One tradition we have retained is that of ‘totems’. Even modern Zimbabweans know what their totems are (mine is ‘heart’) and they are passed down from father to child. The significance is not clear, but it creates an ‘affiliation’ between people of the same totem, which crosses family or ‘clan’ loyalties. Special permission is needed to marry someone of the same totem and people are not supposed to eat the thing their totem is. Easier for those of ‘Elephant’ totem, harder for those of ‘Leg’ who are supposed to eschew drumsticks, and leg cuts of meat! It is for this reason I don’t eat haggis and black pudding, as they apparently have hearts in them. I claim ignorance as a defence when it comes to sausages and burgers!

Family Roles:
Within a family there are the same roles as within a western family; mother/father, child, spouse, grandparent, aunt/uncle. However, for a woman ALL of her sisters’ children are also her children, and for a man ALL the children of his brothers are his own. You are thus to consider the children of your mother’s sister or father’s brother as your own nuclear siblings. Your ‘aunt’ (mother’s sister) is your mother and your ‘uncle’(father’s brother) is also your father as much as your own parent is. It is even considered bad form to make distinctions, in the way a parent would be frowned upon if he says of a child he had raised from birth ‘that’s not my real child, it’s only a stepchild’. The interaction is as is usual between a western mother-child, siblings etc. The interesting part it’s the other side. If a man has a daughter, his own sister is considered an ‘elder sister’ to the girl and her role is to be a guiding force HOWEVER, never to disclose ‘secrets’ to the child’s parents, so similar to the sanctity of a priest’s confessional, or a client-solicitor privilege- This role is ‘Tete’. A woman’s brother has the same role for her sons and is called ‘sekuru ‘grandfather’- even though he is an uncle. With a girl and ‘Tete’ (i.e. her father’s sister) as they are ‘sisters’, Tete’s children are her children and they address her as ‘mother’, even though in English they are ‘cousins’. So for me, Tete’s children call me ‘mother’ but they call my brother ‘uncle’. It can get quite confusing but is taken very seriously. It can often cause offence when diaspora Zimbabweans return and do not express the ‘proper affection’ for a ‘child’, who to them is a cousin, or veneration for a ‘grandfather’ who to them is also a distant cousin. It is in fact a very empowering role for women. When one acts in the capacity of ‘Tete’, for example, you have authority over a man who may be chronologically older or of higher social standing. This is usually exercised in family disputes, marriages etc. Conversely, one gets to be a ‘grandchild’ and cossetted even if you are elderly, and your ‘grandfather’ is some decades younger than you. It allows people to wear different ‘hats’ at different times, and to take on different perspectives at the same time. Three factors are leading to its demise. Firstly, Urbanisation and distance – I do not really feel sisterly affection for second cousins I have rarely seen but am genuinely touched that they will be elated to see you and (sometimes literally) kill the fatted calf in your honour. Secondly is that some roles have been deliberately misinterpreted leading to abuse. One relationship exists which is ‘junior wife’. It is intended as a ‘protective’ role but has been exploited by some paedophiles. Thirdly, it is the general lack of understanding of the meaning of the roles and their function, together with westernisation which has led to many of them falling into disuse.

As you rightly pointed out, the initiated are now few and far between, if at all any still remain. Into the vacuum left by these elders have come charlatans. Confidence tricksters who prey on the superstitious and charge high prices for ‘spells’, ‘good fortune’ etc. and are eschewed by anyone educated. Anyone who has studied the power of placebo can well understand the healing function they could have had. And the in Europe, the old wives’ brew of willow bark tea for pain was eventually synthesised into Asprin and I have no doubt the healers did similar things in Zimbabwe. An aunt once put some sap on a wart my brother had and it fell off a few days later!. I watched an episode of ‘Call The Midwife’ which I generally enjoy very much. They were in 1960s South Africa to help the poor, ignorant and helpless people deliver babies and treat disease. When pictures such as these are painted they do not take into account that traditional practices were wiped out, and the structures which would have addressed these problems no longer existed. The creation of a cash economy meant that people now needed (and wanted) to participate in the western economies. Men had to work miles away in the mines and in the cities. The girl who would have been trained to be a midwife was now a housemaid somewhere, and her garden-boy husband would have been the one with knowledge of how to dig wells. Deprivation and diseases caused by cramped living conditions which would not have existed for their ancestors are now considered part and parcel of being African.

Great Zimbabwe:
The thing most Zimbabweans have great pride in is Great Zimbabwe. It is from that the country gets its name and it means ‘Great house of stone’. It is an example of great architecture, and the function of some of the structures are still unknown. The remarkable thing about it is that the bricks have an interlocking structure, almost like Lego and have lasted for so many centuries, intact, without any sort of mortar, or cement. This type of construction has not been seen anywhere else. One hateful argument sometimes put forward is that the city must have been built by aliens, or non-indigenous people, as black Africans did not have the intellect to construct such a thing. In ancient times there was trade between Zimbabwe and the north. The name Shona, in fact means ‘Gold’ in a western language (I think in Portuguese?) and they were so named as they were producers of gold (and continue to do so to this day). In the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe there was found, tantalisingly, ancient Chinese pottery, suggesting interaction even with them.

Bonus – Conspiracy theory
I watched a documentary on Youtube, some years ago, I can’t remember the title. As you may know, the legend is that the Biblical King Solomon had a relationship with the Queen of Sheba. Ethiopians believe the queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian queen, and their religion states that she bore King Solomon’s son. In Zimbabwe, there have been for many generations African Jewish people. They observe many of the Jewish dietary and religious practices. There is an argument that at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, some fled, together with the Ark of the Covenant to the Ethiopian Jews. They then migrated southward, ending up in Zimbabwe. The theory also argues that the Ark of the Covenant was in fact a large drum, carried on poles, and inside it was the ‘Holy of Holies. It was carried into battle and the sound of it being played struck terror into Israel’s enemies. This drum was at one point exhibited in the Harare National Museum. Some have argued that the misfortune that Zimbabwe has suffered is due to not returning this ‘Ark of the Covenant’ to Jerusalem.

You mention that ‘The key factor is the way indigenous memory systems ground the basic structure of information and then build it up layout by layer using all the range of memory techniques.’ I now wonder if the traditional childrens’ stories we have in Zimbabwe about ‘Rabbit and Baboon’ may be an element of this. You are right to harness the power of aural learning. We all know word for word the lyrics of pointless songs, anchored by catchy tunes. Using this capacity for useful information is something that should be embraced. The United Nations protects what it terms ‘cultural rights’ in its International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

I greatly appreciated Fadzai taking so much time to write at length. I also appreciated learning more when we met.

So much has been lost. It is so sad that indigenous intellect has not been appreciated and the vast store of knowledge is now mostly gone.


Grounded: Indigenous Knowing in a Concrete Reality

My new essay is now available free from open access academic publisher, Rounded Globe.

Download here: Grounded: Indigenous Knowing in a Concrete Reality

The description from the Rounded Globe website:

“Non-literate cultures depend on their memories to store all the information on which their survival depends, both physically and culturally. They effectively memorise entire field guides to the thousands of species of flora and fauna along with navigational charts, genealogies, astronomy, history, geology and the ethics and laws by which they live. How do they manage to remember so much information when they are dependent on the same fallible memory as you and me?

This essay will explain the mechanisms by which indigenous cultures know their world and how specific information can be remembered accurately over millennia.

The memory methods in question declined in use as literacy made them seem redundant in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but this essay will argue that we have lost a valuable skill, just as Socrates predicted we would. In the last part of the essay, ways are suggested of reinstating oral technologies alongside literacy, thereby providing a powerful platform for lifelong learning.”

Announcing The Orality Centre

I am absolutely delighted to announce the formation of the Orality Centre which will be based in Etty Street, Castlemaine, on the site which was previously the senior campus for Castlemaine Secondary College (CSC) before the whole school was combined in their new buildings.

The location of the Orality Centre in Etty St, Castlemaine

Judith McLean will be Deputy Principal of CSC in 2017. More commonly known as Rex, she has 10 years experience teaching in remote Aboriginal communities and will take a leading role in the Orality Centre. Rex comes from a secondary mathematics and  science teaching background but has a wealth of experience learned from the Elders she worked with.

Paul Allen is an artist and art teacher who has secured an Arts Victoria Grant for me to work as and artist-in-residence implementing the ideas from The Memory Code at Malmesbury Primary School, only 25 kilometres away. He will also have a leading role at the Orality Centre.

I could not ask for two more impressive teachers to establish this project. There has been and overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to my research from educators from early childhood right through university and continuing education for adults.

The concepts we have talked about in the rather excited meetings to date have centred on ideas like how we can use art, music, vivid characters, storytelling, songlines and an array of mnemonic devices to enhance the regular curriculum: Mathematics, Science, Humanities, Languages and bringing Art and Music right into the middle. We have no intention of adding new subject, just making learning in the existing classes even better.

There has been a great deal of interest from people working with with indigenous students and students with dyslexia, ADHD and higher academic ability among many themes. There’s also been interest from those who feel that these traditional memory technologies may have significant implications in improving memory retention in the elderly.

I have had so many requests for workshops about all these topics, that I am absolutely thrilled that now we have the staff and home to establish the Orality Centre. I am really looking forward to working with the educators, artists and musicians who have already spoken to me about getting involved.

Thank you to Rex and Paul for making this happen!


Aboriginal affirmation at Coolum Beach

I was a guest at the inaugural Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival to talk about The Memory Code. I had no idea it would prove to be such an emotional time. The affirmation of my work by the Traditional Owners proved to be far more powerful than I could have expected.

coolum-welcome1We were welcomed to Gubbi Gubbi Country by Lyndon Davis and the Gubbi Gubbi Dancers. Festivals don’t start any better than this.

My time with Traditional Owner, Bridgette Chilly Davis (Dhdugga Kabi Kabi), was an emotional one for both of us and for the audience.

Bridgette talked about the songlines from the perspective of a Traditional Owner, what it was like to walk Country, to be in Country and to interact with the animals and plants in Country. She talked about the knowledge of the Old Ones and how it came to her so strongly when alone with them in the bush. She talked about the spiritual link, something I would not even pretend to be able to emulate.

I talked about the way that the songs, dances, stories and links to sacred places in Country act as an extraordinary memory aid to all the complex knowledge of the culture: animals, plants, genealogies, navigation, geology, seasonality and something I think I have greatly underestimated – the way it all links together. No animal is known without understanding its relationship to all the other animals and plants which inhabit that ecological niche and the seasonal cycle.

coolum-bridgette1 coolum-bridgette2

We answered a lot of questions from the audience, but throughout it was the connection to Bridgette and the Kabi Kabi knowledge which at times overpowered me. This is not the usual sensation of a science writer talking about a science book!

The most moving moment for me was when Bridgette told the audience “She really gets it! She really gets it!”. Members of the audience afterwards said they had listened to the Aboriginal stories and talk about Country many times but realised that they had not really understood that the connectives to Country was far more than just loving where they lived. My work acts as a segue to hearing what Bridgette was actually saying. How rewarding is that?

coolum-lyndon-davisLyndon Davis ran a session on Dreamtime story-telling talking about the Gubbi Gubbi stories and songs, all of them about Country, animals, plants, seasons and responsibilities for Country. One story tells of the way the pilot fish of the mullet leads the migration and must never be killed. The largest fish are left and the Maroochy River ran think with mullet. Of course, these laws are not respected by fishermen today and there are few mullet left. The timing of the fishing was linked to the behaviour of the sea eagles. The stories Lyndon told and performed all reflected the integrated pragmatic knowledge of our Aboriginal cultures. A second session with Lyndon was about the language and the way words reflect the behaviour of the animals, nature of the plants, calls of the birds and so on. And all is linked to place, song, story and mythology. Lyndon’s paintings also reflect the Gubbi Gubbi stories, in particular his use of the sea eagle and details in the designs.

coolum-daim-axe-helen-herbMy husband, Damian, is an archaeologist, and spent time examining an axe head with archaeologist Helen Coooke and Uncle Herb Wharton (for non-Australian, Uncle is a term of respect for Aboriginal Elders).


coolum-linda-kateThank you to the organisers for the invitation, in particular to Wendy O’Hanlon and Eileen Walder. Thank you also to the volunteers, especially Linda Morse and Kate Eagles.


The Memory Code – Pegasus Books

cover-tmcI am delighted that the Pegasus Books edition of The Memory Code is now available for pre-order from 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!

These editions follow the Australian edition from Allen & Unwin.

The blurb from the book says:

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.

Writing – the complication of definitions


What is writing?

Specifically, when does what I call a mnemonic object really constitute a written device?

It all depends on definitions.

Let’s start with the most controversial question it the area – is the Inca khipu a written or mnemonic device?

quipu khipu
Khipu as displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Lynn Dombrowski, under Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike.)

This knotted cord device is the most adaptable portable memory device that I have found so far. In combination with their landscape pathways known as ceques, the khipu was the reason the Inca could maintain a vast empire in South America without writing. That is, if you define, as I do, the khipu as a mnemonic device.

But it isn’t simple. I have also found it less memorable in my experimentation than the landscape locations forming songlines or the portable devices such as the African lukasa. Was it ever intended to be fully memorized? Was it much closer to a written script? 

In The Memory Code, I use the narrowest definition of writing, that of a script which represents the sounds to a degree that an independent reader of the same culture will reproduce the exact words inscribed by the writer. Hence, there needs to be an alphabetic script, or at least one in which syllables can be represented, for me to call the symbols on a physical media ‘writing’.

urton-khipu-bookGary Urton, in his fascinating book, Signs of the Inka Khipu, defined writing as:

the communication of specific ideas in a highly conventionalized, standardized manner by means of permanent, visible signs.

However, he goes on to define ‘true writing’, a term he acknowledges as inflammatory and ethnocentric and wants dropped. Urton wrote:

I would also like to subscribe to the qualification that the forms of writing that accomplish the most highly specific level of denotation of ideas are those in which the signs of writing denote the sounds of the language community in question.

Urton, among many others, would prefer the terms glottographic (sound based) and semasiographic (non sound based) with further qualifications.

Using Urton’s definitions, I am happy to consider the two khipus I am using in my experiments as written devices although I may find that I start to  memorise them much as I do the other devices. That isn’t the case yet, but all these experiments take years. More on that in a future blog.

But what about those who consider all indigenous inscriptions to be writing?

Again, I hand over to Gary Urton, who talks about the description of wider definitions which include dance and music, images on textiles and ceramics as writing thus:

However, I think such signing devices are best classified as icons bearing conventional but highly abstract, context-specific meanings. Referring to such productions as writing, while perhaps satisfying what I would argue are essentially politically motivated programs or agendas promoting inclusiveness and multiculturism (to which I am sympathetic), renders the concept of writing virtually meaningless and (more to the point) useless for analytical purposes.

I think we can only conclude that there is a continuum from devices which are clearly mnemonic to those, like this blog post, which are clearly writing and that a very specific division between writing and mnemonics isn’t possible. The people who created the symbolic forms were more interested in storing and communicating information than they were in my future struggles with definitions.

History is usually defined as the study of the past where there are written records. Before written records, it is prehistory. Consequently, the division between history and prehistory is similarly blurred. Such is the reality of studying the human past.

I am going to give Urton the final word here. He wrote that

the point on which differentiation between different types of signing/ recording systems would turn … is that of need, rather than intelligence. (His emphasis).

Quotes are taken from Gary Urton, Signs of the Inka Khipu, (2003), University of Texas Press, pp 26-8.

See also:

My 25 Memory Experiments

Singing the land, signing the land

Singing the land, signing 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


Monuments for memory – the Ten Indicators


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.

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.


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.

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.


So excited!