On the same day the project amy staff had a sudden

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On the same day, the Project Amy staff had a sudden, unexpected breakthrough in their understanding of Amy’s dreams. Through all the publicity and commotion, the group had continued to work daily with Amy, and her continued distress—and flaring temper tantrums—was a constant reminder that they had not solved the initial problem. They persisted in
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33 their search for clues, although when the break finally came, it happened almost by accident. Sarah Johnson, a research assistant, was checking prehistoric archaeological sites in the Congo, on the unlikely chance that Amy might have seen such a site (“old buildings in the jungle”) in her infancy, before she was brought to the Minneapolis zoo. Johnson quickly discovered the pertinent facts about the Congo: the region had not been explored by Western observers until a hundred years ago; in recent times, hostile tribes and civil war had made scientific inquiry hazardous; and finally, the moist jungle environment did not lend itself to artifact preservation. This meant remarkably little was known about Congolese prehistory, and Johnson completed her research in a few hours. But she was reluctant to return so quickly from her assignment, so she stayed on, looking at other books in the anthropology library—ethnographies, histories, early accounts. The earliest visitors to the interior of the Congo were Arab slave traders and Portuguese merchants, and several had written accounts of their travels. Because Johnson could read neither Arabic nor Portuguese, she just looked at the plates. And then she saw a picture that, she said, “sent a chill up my spine.” It was a Portuguese engraving originally dated 1642 and reprinted in an 1842 volume. The ink was yellowing on frayed brittle paper, but clearly visible was a ruined city in the jungle, overgrown with creeper vines and giant ferns. The doors and windows were constructed with semicircular arches, exactly as Amy had drawn them. “It was,” Elliot said later, “the kind of opportunity that comes to a researcher once in his lifetime—if he’s lucky. Of course we knew nothing about the picture; the caption was written in flowing script and included a word that looked like ‘Zinj,’ and the date 1642. We immediately hired translators skilled in archaic Arabic and seventeenth-century Portuguese, but that wasn’t the point. The point was we had a chance to verify a major theoretical question. Amy’s pictures seemed to be a clear case of specific genetic memory.” Genetic memory was first proposed by Marais in 1911, and it has been vigorously debated ever since. In its simplest form, the theory proposed that the mechanism of genetic inheritance, which governed the transmission of all physical traits, was not limited to physical traits alone. Behavior was clearly
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34 genetically determined in lower animals, which were born with complex behavior that did not have to be learned. But higher animals had more flexible behavior, dependent on learning and memory. The question was whether higher animals,
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