05 February 2016

Carvings mixed with natural cracks on Arkfeld Site limestone plaque

Adam Arkfeld find, Site, #44FK732, Clear Brook, Virginia (18cm)

This is possibly a bird-form plaque: a bird head facing left and a bird body in profile facing right. Several carved pieces like this have been identified by Adam Arkfeld. In addition to the circle and lines it looks like a few 'dots' were carved as well.

30 January 2016

Mammoth body and feline head combination standing sculpture from Flint Ridge, Ohio

Mammoth body and feline head profile combination standing sculpture from Flint Ridge, Ohio (11cm)
The mammoth is facing left and the feline head is facing right. This mammoth and feline head combination motif is seen in other examples documented here, most recently including this Tennessee find by Jason Lamont and a Virginia mega sculpture made on a landscape rock formation.

Ken Johnston find in the context of many other flint figures seen on this blog. Found in the immediate context of this bird figure recently published.

When assessing a piece like this for artificiality and intent to create an iconic piece rather than some random natural or human action, very strong weight is given to the fact that the interpreted figure stands upright on a base and is presented in correct viewing orientation with respect to the visual horizon. Like in many other sculpture examples, this one stands upright on a designed base. The base has been worked to level out the surfaces the sculpture stands upright on.

This base is what allows a piece of flint 11cm tall and 3cm thick, with a 'lean,' to stand upright.

Photo favoring a more frontal view of the mammoth's trunk curvature.

Photo favoring a more frontal view of the feline head. The 'bump' of the mammoth head is also the ear of the cat. Importantly, this is also the case with the Tennessee example seen in the link above.

The cat's 'nose' is a translucent crystal formation. Other feline heads have been described on this blog from Flint Ridge and this one follows the general scheme or template I have identified.

The hardness and fracture qualities of the flint and the artistic combination of two animals in one view leads to rather abstract visages of the creatures. Accurate representation was not the goal of this art. The final art product may not have been too important either. Perhaps the process of being able to work a stone and realize a motif such as this, in a practical 'optical illusion,' was what was valued by the cultures who made these iconic materials.

23 January 2016

A mammoth sculpture emerges from the snow at Site #44FK732, may illustrate a proto-Polyphemus tale

'Mammoth sculpture with human face profile on posterior' (26cm)
Adam Arkfeld find, Arkfeld archaeology site, #44FK732, Clear Brook, Virginia

The Pleistocene Arkfeld site has produced more mammoth art objects than any other site in the world and several in this same motif. This is an example of a mammoth and human combination sculpture with a person's face profile on the back side of the mammoth figure. The artifact is not in situ in this photo but is surrounded by snow from today's East Coast blizzard.

North American portable rock art combining mammoth and human imagery may be Paleolithic sculptural illustrations of a proto-Polyphemus tale

A number of portable rock art mammoth sculptures which include human imagery have been identified by North American amateur archaeologists and described on this blog. A prominent motif is one of a mammoth with a human face profile incorporated onto its posterior.

Julien d’Huy has suggested there is evidence for a Paleolithic origin for a proto-Polyphemus tale (international tale type ATU 1137). He thinks it likely made it from the Old World into the Americas when the Bearing Land Bridge was open, prior to 10,500 years ago. There is also evidence for versions of it persisting in Amerindian Algonquin and Ojibwa cultures.

According to d’Huy, North American versions are compatible with some European cave art depictions:
“The peculiar image of the animal with a human thigh and prominent rear orifice is equally obscure, but can be compared to the Amerindian versions of the Polyphemus tale, in which the hero often hides inside an animal itself by entering through its anus. This enables the hero to escape the monster who controls the beasts from his dwelling. A motif of the hero hiding in this way would account for the prominence of the anus / vulva on the depicted animal and the co-occurrence of this with the peculiar feature of a human thigh on the animal.”
I think it is possible these sculptures are illustrating the human’s escape from the Lord of Animals in this tale by hiding in/at the mammoth’s anus.

Julien d’Huy, 2014-2015. Polyphemus: a Palaeolithic Tale? - The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter, Winter 2014-2015, 9: 43-64.

19 January 2016

A quartzite skull mask combined with 'raptor with prey at beak' motif from the Arkfeld Site, Clear Brook, Virginia

'Quartzite skull mask' 12cm

Adam Arkfeld find, Paleolithic Arkfeld archaeology Site, Clear Brook, Virginia. Quartzite is an imported stone material to the Arkfeld Site. The conspicuous difference between the shapes of the two eyes leads me to conclude this is an example of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic 'one eye open, one eye missing or closed' motif seen in the Old World and in the United States.

There may be an owl-like bird's face depicted on the top of the head of the human. It may have a depiction of a small animal dangling from its beak. The owl's 'tail' is also the 'chin' of the human.This 'owl with prey' motif has been seen in other examples. Click photos to expand and toggle between the illustrated and non-illustrated versions.

This is the scene in nature captured in this recurring portable rock art motif seen so far in both Ohio and Virginia.

16 January 2016

Cairo, Egypt, area portable rock art find may be an amulet example of the mythological "All seeing eye"

"All seeing eye" portable rock art find by Ahmed Aggag, Cairo, Egypt
Ahmed Aggag found this stone 20 years ago at age 10 and has kept it since then. It appears to have been a mimetolith, or a rock resembling something else. In this case, the stone's formation resembled a human eye. It has been incised with a number of lines forming a simple hash pattern so it is an artifact and the likeness to an eye was likely appreciated and enhanced by its maker.  The lines appear like 'eye lashes' on the two eye figures.

Although I cannot confirm from the photos, it looks like the irises could have been created by application of a black pigment to the stone. Interestingly, the iris on Side 2 seems to be in an octagon shape, with eight definable segments which create the roundness.

This stone eye could have been an amulet in the Egyptian mythic tradition of "The Eye of Horus" or the "All Seeing Eye."

Side 2 of the stone also resembles an eye. The iris has eight sides.

Incised lines on the eye confirm its status as an artifact

Mr. Aggag's eye stone with (cm) scale

 Examples of eye figures from the Cairo Museum provided by Ahmed Aggag

13 January 2016

Normandy, France, Mousterian industry 'scraper' includes human head effigy with face profiles on its edges and perhaps an example of the 'symbolic cosmic egg-chin'

'Human head effigy with neck facing left'
From Normandy, West of Paris Basin
Ken Johnston collection

France Mousterian industry 'scraper' includes human head effigy with face profiles on its edges. This is a presumed Neanderthal piece of figurative art. Many other iconic tool examples exist in private and museum collections but have yet to be identified because no one ever considered the possibility of their existence. Neanderthal figurative sculpture behavior could be established in short order if archaeologists just look carefully at artifacts already above the ground.

Detail of the 'eye' feature on photo 1 shows human attention to distress the surface of the flint

'Human head effigy with neck facing right' on France Mousterian 'scraper' This face on the opposite side has a forehead, eye, nose, mouth, chin and neck.

This is also a bird figure where the bird's breast is the chin of the human. This piece may be displaying the motif of the 'symbolic cosmic egg-chin' as seen in the prior posting.

'Human head left 3/4 profile, tongue sticking out'

When the breast of the bird, also an egg-like form, is isolated and rotated 90 degrees right, the elements of a human head worked in great detail in the flint may be observed. It appears the person's tongue is sticking out or he has something in his mouth. This bird-breast, egg-shape and human face combination suggests the making of a symbolic cosmic egg.

Most interestingly, the larger face on the edge and the small head on the egg form share the same stone feature as their mouths.

The question for Archaeology is "How many Lower and Middle Paleolithic artifacts currently classified as tools include art or are exclusively art objects?"

11 January 2016

A second human head sculpture from a Lower Paleolithic site in the French Pyrenees

'Human head right profile (with 'hair')
Henri Valentie collection, Île d'Oléron, France

The right edge in this view has several flake removals to affect the appearance of a human face profile. From a Lower Paleolithic site in the French Pyrenees producing art and tools.

Henri Valentie writes "I found this on the same site as the piece already published in the blog November 7, 2014. I find a resemblance with 2 heads. The first photo shows part which is dotted. Perhaps have they attempted to create a hairstyle? The stone is 23/20/15 cm."

When the sculpture is rotated the opposite side expresses the Paleolithic art motif 'human head two-faced' described by Pietro Gaietto. The two faces are in profile looking right and left.

The face looking right is composed entirely of a bird figure with a bulging belly. The belly of the bird is in an egg form and also serves as the chin of the human.

Arrows depict approximate lines of sight from the two face profiles. Illustration of a recessive, squared off chin at left and a rounded protruding chin on the face at right. Gaietto has written that the two faced sculptures may sometimes be depicting two kinds of people, more robust, archaic humans and more gracile anatomically modern humans (AMH) for example. I think that is the case in this example with the archaic human face at left and the more AMH face at right.

Ken Johnston interpretation of the bird and egg forms composing the face looking right. Two breaks have been made to make the bird's 'tail feathers' and two incised lines converge to form the point of the bird's 'beak.'

This sculpture is displaying the previously described motif of a 'human face with a symbolic egg-chin.' I have hypothesized that the rounded, protruding egg-like chin seen in anatomically modern humans but no other hominins has resulted from genetic influence from a long-running cultural imperative to selectively favor mates with chins resembling a "cosmic bird egg."

The human chin has long been an enigma to Physical Anthropology: Journal of Human Evolution, Jeffrey H. Schwartz and Ian Tattersall, The human chin revisited: what is it and who has it? (1999)

Paper: Facial prognathism in the hominid and human species

04 January 2016

A standing bird figure stone in flint from Licking County, Ohio

Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio. 9cm, Vanport chert

The bird balances delicately on a worked tripod base on a flat surface. Found in an area which has produced several flint bird and bird head figures already featured on this blog.

01 January 2016

Mammoth and feline head combination is second mammoth sculpture with parallel lines from Hardin County, Tennessee, site

Jason Lamont find, Hardin County, Tennessee

Jason identified this rock as having artificial incised lines running vertically when the stone is in standing position. Jason identified another incised stone which has been interpreted as a mammoth and human combination.

'Feline head facing left'

Side 2. I interpret this incised piece to also be a figurative representation of a mammoth body facing right and a feline head facing left. The photo here provides a nice perspective on the feline head. The cat's ear is at the top edge of the photo. The cat's ear is also the 'head bump' of the mammoth. This feline and mammoth combinatopn motif is seen in other North American examples and in this megalithic landscape rock art sculpture in Virginia. 

Feline head facing left and a profile of a mammoth body facing right. The illustration locates stone features serving as the 'eyes' of the feline and the mammoth. The 'mouth' of the cat is in red. Click photos to expand.

A second stone with incised lines and selected removals was found along with the incised mammoth and feline combination. Jason Lamont finds.

28 December 2015

A second mammoth and human combination sculpture from Hardin County, Tennessee

'Mammoth left profile with anthropomorphic face in lower left quadrant'
Jason Lamont find, Hardin County, Tennessee

As seen before from Jason's location, the mammoth and the human are sharing foreheads. This North American Paleolithic portable rock art motif is seen in several examples on this blog. The simple human face has an eye, nose and mouth feature in the stone. The mammoth has a ground eye in correct position. The sculpture stands upright in correct orientation.

Anthropomorphic face in left profile on the front of the mammoth

Faint traces of another face which may have been pigmented. I think it is a feline face where the mammoth's head bump and eye become the right ear of the cat. Its left ear is out of sight in this perspective.

Mammoth illustrated

26 December 2015

Homo heidelbergensis created a face on a tool handle by exploiting a fossil crinoid stem as 'eyes'

Homo heidelbergensis face on tool handle by exploiting crinoid stem fossil inclusions as 'eyes'

"Circa: 600,000 - 400,000 years B.P Made by Homo heidelbergensis. Found at Northfleet, near Swanscombe, Kent. The tool is partially bifaced and worked with a curved distal point, most of the tool remains cortical for grasping. This tool probably belongs to the Clactonian phase of the Lower Palaeolithic. It is in superb condition with clear working detail and even patination. Length cm: 8.5, Width cm: 3.5, Thickness cm: 4, Weight grams: 128"

I propose the human face icon in the top photo is created and included in this tool by the maker to add an enhanced visual dimension or animation to the stone. The nose and mouth features have been deliberately created to make a simple face on the edge of the tool where the two fossil inclusions become the 'eyes.' It appears the same crinoid stem is exposed on the two sides of the stone. It could be described as the known motif "decorated handaxe in the Acheulean tradition." Other examples also exploit fossils as facial features. The face is located on the functional handle of the tool which would come into contact with the fingers while the tool was in normal use.

The nose in this example is a regular circle which required focused directed stonework. The mouth is rectangular with a 90 degree intersection of lines.

Cultural imperatives may have suggested the tool maker select this stone for a tool because of the unique fossil exposure which could make for easy decoration of the tool edge with a simple facial likeness.

The November 2014 discovery of a shell from Java which had been engraved by Homo erectus has changed some mainstream attitudes regarding the possibility of art behaviors by early humans who in some circles are still characterized as ape-like. Just like the shell in the British Museum, we can look to current collections of "tools" to explore the possibility of the artistic inclusion of images and icons in these very old artifacts.

20 December 2015

Vietnam cave river stone head likeness of Shiva

'Shiva stone head'
Thath Chanuhacha collection, Bangkok, Thailand
Thath writes: Dear Ken, I just came back from holiday in Vietnam...This time I discovered a river stone from the area of Hoa Lu, Tam Coc or Halong Bay on land. The place is considered the most beautiful scenery of rice field in Vietnam. On a river trip by rowing a small boat and on approaching a cave I spotted a peculiar large pebble in the crystal clear water which is flowing into the cave. When I picked it up it turned out to be like Shiva head and the stone is very beautiful when reflected with sunlight... This face happens to be exactly in the style of the Champa's Shiva image.

Separately from Thath's interpretation, Ken Johnston illustration of a human head facing left split with a primate or hominin head on the opposite side in right 3/4 profile view. The approximate facial features have been added by the illustration to facilitate interpretation of the details of the two joined heads, a sculptural janiform. The sculpture may have been sharper at one time and become more water worn and visually ambiguous in the river flow into the cave.

The two-headed motif of the Vietnam sculpture is the same as the motif on this very recently featured Tennessee sculpture. In both, the more robust face with the brow ridge is seen on the right in 3/4 profile view.

Paleolithic art author Pietro Gaietto's conceptual illustration using skulls of a sculpture type juxtaposing an anatomically modern human head (at left) with an archaic type human head (Neanderthal, at right).

Gaietto's web site includes this information: "Sculptures of lower and middle Paleolithic are eight types:
1) human head
2) animal head
3) human head two-faced (bold added here for emphasis) 
4) animal head two-faced
5) human head joined for the neck at the head of animal
6) human head mixed to animal head
7) naked woman (Venus)
8) head of animal with human body.
"It is important to consider that the human two-faced head is not an imitation of nature, as it did not exist, but is an invention of the spiritual culture of humanity. All these eight types of sculptures appear in the Lower Paleolithic and are all linked to the cult, that is to religion." 
Link to Pietro Gaietto's Museum of the origins of man

A recent paper suggests the possibility that what we have thought of as 'archaic humans' survived until more recently than previously understood. December 17, 2015, A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China


The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China.

14 December 2015

Tennessee River creek confluence site reports human head left profile with eye and with sets of parallel incised lines

'Human head left profile with eye and with sets of parallel incised lines'
Jason Lamont finds, Hardin County, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River

The reflective or sparkling inclusions in the stone may have inspired its use for an iconic sculpture.

This is a 'human/mammoth combination sculpture' where the two are sharing foreheads, a North American Paleolithic art motif described on this blog. There are two similar worked features in the stone to serve as the eyes of each. Click on the photos to toggle between the illustrated and non-illustrated versions.

When rotated 90 degrees left the human head profile becomes a mammoth profile facing left. This kind of optical illusion is achieved by focusing one's visual attention to see the desired image. The 'eyes' are the visual ques for each of the images. The idea of the human and the mammoth sharing foreheads was a significant one to some North American Paleolithic peoples.

Mammoth/human combination from France cave art, tracing by Brad Lepper

Eye, nostrils and mouth on head shaped stone

Worked stone heads from the site identified by Jason

Chert tool found among the art

Face with two eyes, nostrils and mouth, nested in the corner of this stone as if in the wide open mouth of a larger creature.

Depiction of larger creature (snake?) head left profile with the 'little head in its mouth'