The Edge of Memory
How much of the folk tales of our ancestors is rooted in fact, and what can they tell us about the future?
In today’s society it is the written word that holds the authority. We are more likely to trust the words found in a history textbook over the version of history retold by a friend – after all, human memory is unreliable, and how can you be sure your friend hasn’t embellished the facts? But before humans were writing down their knowledge, they were passing it on in the form of stories.
The Edge of Memory celebrates the predecessor of written information – the spoken word, tales from our ancestors that have been passed down, transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next. Among the most extensive and best-analysed of these stories are from native Australian cultures. These stories conveyed both practical information and recorded history, describing a lost landscape, often featuring tales of flooding and submergence. Folk traditions such as these are increasingly supported by hard science. Geologists are starting to corroborate the tales through study of climatic data, sediments and land forms; the evidence was there in the stories, but until recently, nobody was listening.
In this book, Patrick Nunn unravels the importance of these tales, exploring the science behind folk history from around the world – including northwest Europe and India – and what it can tell us about environmental phenomena, from coastal drowning to volcanic eruptions. These stories of real events were handed down the generations over thousands of years, and they have broad implications for our understanding of how human societies have developed through the millennia, and ultimately how we respond collectively to changes in climate, our surroundings and the environment we live in.
In this sweeping, masterful volume, Nunn stitches together evidence from geology, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, history and geography to bring to our collective attention the many durable myths and legends of Indigenous oral traditions. If you care about the future of the planet, and our survival on it, The Edge of Memory is a must-read book. -- Chris Gibson, Editor-in-Chief, Australian Geographer, and Professor of Geography, University of Wollongong, Australia Nunn's book is the newest jewel in the recent chain of research showing, through geological verification, that human oral traditions often record real events back 10,000 years and more. He shows that such ancient fact-bearing stories, usually dismissed as "just myths", occur the world around. The book is an engagingly written must-read: I couldn't put it down. -- Elizabeth Wayland Barber, co-author of When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth A very important book that shows how non-literate people preserved their observations of memorable events for as much as ten millennia, and their recollections can also help us to face the challenges of environmental changes today. -- Rita Compatangelo-Soussignan, Professor of Ancient History at Le Mans University, France
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