The Edge of Memory

Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World

hardcover, 288 pages

English language

Published Jan. 7, 2019 by Bloomsbury Sigma.


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3 stars (1 review)

In today's society it is generally 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 telling it to each other 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. These folk traditions are increasingly supported by hard science. Geologists are …

4 editions

So much geology

3 stars

This book is about indigenous stories that were passed on orally, for millennia sometimes, and that recount ancient geologic events (volcanic eruptions, dramatic sea level rises that engulfed coastal cities, islands that suddenly disappeared...), generally disguised as tales, probably because it made them easier to remember and pass to the next generation.

On one hand it's fascinating to think that peoples have been able to retain the memory of events that happened maybe 10 000 years ago, or that - at the coldest time of the last ice age - the global sea level was ~120m lower than it is today, which gave some parts of the world a very different geography. On the other hand, some chapters just felt like long lists of stories that were actually describing a certain kind of geologic event. I would have liked to learn more about how these stories were transmitted, and not …