02 May 2011

Translucent head-shaped flint nodule with worked face elements interpreted as a possible "Lithophane"

Translucent flint nodule with worked face viewed as a "Lithophane"
artifact from Irrigon, Oregon, USA, Dennis Boggs collection
click photos to expand size


Moving the stone slightly in relation to the hole allowing light to hit it from behind while in a dark room changes the image slightly.  I created a camera obscura in the strict sense of the words (a dark chamber) in order to see what the artifact might look like when illuminated from behind by the sun in a darkened hide tent.  I used a 75 watt full-spectrum bulb for the light source.

A circular flake was removed from the cortex to make a "wide open mouth" seen in the white creamy flint circle toward the bottom of the artifact as seen in photo right.  The horizontal crack in this creamy flint makes the lip line of the mouth.  The flint work on the core flake removal seems to be heavily "rolled" by environmental forces like soil and water. Please note how the mouth can take on different looks at different viewing angles as seen in the top and bottom photos.
click photo to expand size

In the first/top photo, the artifact is back lighted to demonstrate the translucent nature of the stone selection made by the artist here.  It would have been possible to achieve this type of back lighting by placing the stone over a hole in a very dark hide-based shelter and view it in darkness while lit by sunlight from outside the dark tent, much like a stained glass window.  I call these "lithophanes." 

The illuminated image seems to convey the "one eye open, one eye/ closed/missing" motif that the front-lighted version does not.  The eye and nose pits were ground into the stone material. There is a hair line or forehead line in darker flint in the top photo which is among the features not seen in broad daylight without the back lighting. 
The likelihood that there were opportunities for "discovery" of this type of back lighting (holes in tents), which could have been used for translucent flint pieces such as this one, is addressed in Matt Gatton's paleo camera theory. 

http://www.paleo-camera.com/


Close up view of the right eye when illuminated from behind as a "lithophane."  It appears a black, pitch-like, substance was applied to the hand-ground eye socket and residue is still found in the crevaces.


click photo to expand

reverse side in broad light


reverse side of face, as illuminated as a lithophane

A stone which light could pass through would likely have been an object of great interest to people of long ago.

-kbj

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