In pre-literate times, civilizations kept records of their legends and knowledge orally?without ever writing themdown. Yet the same words were passed from one generation to another with an accuracy that seems impossible to us today. Did our early ancestors have differently-structured brains or did they develop special memory techniques?

A new study compared 10 of today’s memory champions with 10 controls and found that people with excellent memories weren’t born that way?they developed their ability with practice and special tricks.

Many of them say they use an ancient Greek technique known as “method of loci,? which involves visualizing yourself walking along a well-known route, depositing images of to-be-remembered items at specific points, then retracing your steps when you try to remember them. “What they basically confirmed is what people suspected?people with superior memories are superior because of their strategies,” says researcher Barry Gordon.

The study involved showing volunteers three sets of images: faces, snowflakes and three-digit numbers. They were then asked them to remember not only which ones they had seen, but the order they were shown in. During the memory tests, the volunteers’ brains were scanned with MRI. The memory champs excelled on the number-based test and their scans showed more activity in the parts the brain used for spatial navigation.However, on the snowflake test, the memory champs did no better than ordinary people, probably because they couldn?t use the ?loci? method.

Although the new study found no structural differences in the brains of people with excellent memories, previous work shows that London taxi drivers, who are also known for their incredible memories, do eventually develop structural brain differences.

A very special place to store memories is revealed in The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls.

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