This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory - Lynne Kelly | Aeon Ideas
Australian Aboriginal memory palaces are associated with the land, structured by sung pathways called songlines. A songline is a sequence of locations that orientate or contain valuable resources. At each location, a song or ritual is performed that will always be associated with that particular location, physically and in memory. Thus, a songline provides a table of contents to the entire knowledge system.
Some cultures mix the skyscape with the landscape as a memory device; associating knowledge such as seasonal variations, navigation, timekeeping and the ethics of their culture with stories about the heavenly locations. Typically, only fully initiated elders would know and understand the entire knowledge system of the community. This secrecy and sacredness of critical information protects it from corruption.
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Rock art and decorated posts are famous aids to indigenous memory, but far less known are the portable memory devices. Incised stones and boards, tools, collections of objects in bags, bark paintings, birchbark scrolls, decorations on skins and knotted cords have all been used to aid the recall of memorised information.
A memory palace, or a method of loci, is an imagined physical palace where one piece of information is placed in each site, allowing one to mentally stroll through their memory palace drawing out information in the required order without missing an element.
There is ample circumstantial evidence that many indigenous cultures around the world have been using it for at least 40,000 years to store, in modern terms, absurdly large amounts of knowledge. But our dependence on writing has eroded this skill.
Cultures without writing are called ‘non-literate’, instead their identity should be associated with what they do in the absence of writing to record their knowledge.
They employ a range of memory technologies linked under the term ‘primary orality’, including song, dance, story and physical memory devices. The sky or landscape itself, are the most universal of these and they provide highly effective memory storage across many societies
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