The five places that made me: Dr Lynne Kelly


The direction of my research changed radically the day I accompanied my husband to Stonehenge. I had minimal interest in archaeology, but standing on Salisbury Plain that day, I suddenly recognised a link between my research on the extraordinary memory systems used by Indigenous cultures and the purpose of ancient monuments. Archaeology became a fascination and the idea that monuments could be used as memory theatres became an obsession. 


A few years later I was a guest at one of the most exciting archaeological digs in the world. On the Orkney Islands, the Ness of Brodgar site is uncovering massive Neolithic ceremonial buildings and rewriting British pre-history. After some training, they let me loose with trowel in hand to work alongside the real archaeologists. I had been invited to present my interpretation of the monuments during lunch. I stood nervously on the grassy mound and spoke. Confused stares turned to interest. The enthusiastic discussion which followed dissolved my fears about archaeologists' willingness to engage with new interpretations. I left the dig on a total high.


My mother's favourite place on the planet was the British Museum in London. Unfortunately she died a few weeks before I first walked up its magnificent entrance stairs. To see the Rosetta Stone, the actual real Rosetta Stone, was one of the most remarkable moments of my life. And the British Museum is full of such famous items. There is even one of the statues from Easter Island which added that unique place to my research. 


The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington is a remarkable celebration of Native American cultures, each Nation being given their own space. I had lunch with one of the Indigenous staff members. We were discussing my ideas about memory in Native American cultures and the relationship to archaeology when she suggested that I should consider the huge animal glyphs on the deserts of Peru, part of the famous Nasca Lines. The spider was so reminiscent, she pointed out, of Navajo spider designs. I had never considered the Nasca Lines before but she was absolutely right. Oh, and the food in the restaurant was sensational.


America's best kept secret is the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, accessible only by a long dirt road. When I visited I was overwhelmed by the massive silent archaeological ruins of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Built a thousand years ago, the largest of the buildings once stood four storeys high and enclosed more than 600 rooms, many purely ceremonial. I found being surrounded by the expansive red cliffs above the ancient stonework, stark against the brilliant blue sky, to be totally awe-inspiring. No place has had such an unexpected emotional impact on me before or since.

Lynne Kelly is the author of The Memory Code ( Allen & Unwin, $32.99). See