Stonehenge may have been used as a site where knowledge was communicated ritually, according to a new theory.

Lynne Kelly, La Trobe University doctoral researcher and science writer, has been working on technologies oral cultures used to present and pass on scientific knowledge.

Kelly demonstrated the constant changes in the archaeology at Stonehenge are consistent with the mnemonic (conveying through chants and rituals) needs of the knowledge elite as they settle, while delivering the inaugural Marshall McLuhan Lecture in Chicago.

‘Instead of moving between sacred places to perform the cycle of ceremonies which encode all formal knowledge of their culture, Neolithic Britons replicated that landscape in the monuments they built over 1,500 years in transition from a mobile hunter-gathering to settled agriculture,’ says Kelly.

The Neolithic Britons who built Stonehenge, like other cultures starting to settle, lacked a written language with which to preserve their knowledge.

Kelly says the most reliable recording system they had were mnemonic methods, whereby knowledge ranging from animal behaviour to astronomy could be communicated.

To facilitate this, she argues that Stonehenge itself acted as a knowledge centre, a function that it had in common with many other sites around the world, says a university release.

Kelly’s research draws parallels with oral cultures such as Native American, African and Aboriginal Australian, and finds clues in the physical remains of Stonehenge.