28 October 2011

Skull effigy in micro art form

Skull effigy pebble, Licking County, Ohio, find by Ken Johnston

This "skull effigy pebble" was found in lithic debris at a suspected Archaic to Paleolithic period cultural site along the shore of modern Buckeye Lake, Ohio. The find site is visible from interstate highway 70 (I-70). The pebble is 1cm in size. It appeared to have been manuported to the site with other foreign stone material which was found in a concentration feature, such as a possible former dwelling floor, eroding from a rise in a plowed field. It was the only white colored stone of its kind found in the area. Its skull-like shape led to closer examination and I then noticed a possible face image which looks to have been humanly modified on a micro scale. The mouth is as if a little circle to depict, or in recognition of, a "moan." It may be part of the stone was naturally suggestive and a person in prehistory recognized its potential and "finished it off" by making a couple of modifications.

A find like this emphasizes the need for preservation and very close examination of all stone material- even tiny coarse stone pebbles such as this- found in archaeological sites. The micro-lithic Acheulean handaxes of Homo erectus at Bilzingsleben (see John Feliks, Phi in the Acheulian) reminds one of the possible intricate attention on a micro scale given to stone materials by artists of the past. These micro worked artifacts are too often missed and forsaken by archaeologists and collectors.

John Feliks link

-kbj

24 October 2011

Bird's eye

Rose quartz bird pecked, ground, around gemstone "eye" inclusion
Sherry Hill collection, Doe River valley, Carter County, Tennessee
The bird is 3cm by 3cm and the polished eye stone is 2mm
(click photo to expand)

Close up of the eye inclusion protruding from the figure stone

-kbj

19 October 2011

Handaxes as handsculptures: Iconographic tools of the Acheulean may demonstrate figurative art dates into early humanity

Recently identified oldest known Acheulean (bifacial) handaxe,
1.76 million years old, from the journal Nature

I noticed that just following the introduction to figure stones in Pleistocene Coalition News issue 13, http://pleistocenecoalition.com/newsletter/september-october2011.pdf, each of the three photos of the Mousterian bi-face artifact in KOD's artifact photography article may display separate examples of intended imagery.  Richard Wilson’s (U.K.) web site outlines “the problem” so well:  “Herein lies the rub, the bandwagon effect has exasperated the tendency for archaeologists to summarily dismiss potential palaeoart incorporated into lithics, often quoting the tendency for pareidolia. But it is exactly the same processes involved in pareidolia which were arguably at play when hominins began to appreciate visual-ambiguity, the earliest record of which is the Makapansgat pebble between 2 and 3 million years ago.” Wilson is author of the 2010 paper “Cultural cobbles or a load of cobblers? Identifying artefactuality and the detection of iconography” available at his web site http://www.palaeoart.co.uk/  

I like to think I bring, at least then, a kind of “informed pareidolia” to the subject.  Herewith, referring to the photos in Pleistocene Coalition News link above:

Photo 1) a linier semi-circle, “mouth,” has been ground and/or etched into to place along an arc.  A deeper flake has been removed in the place for a right eye, so as differentiate the eye facets in a “one eye open, one eye closed” motif.  The affect results in something I will call a “winking smiley face” for descriptive purpose.  Lighter etching at the left eye, with dot in center, may have been made by the maker or someone later who recognized the smiley face.

Photo 2) a possible right facial profile is on the lower right corner of the artifact.  It is “in place” and “in-line” with multiple examples (some, but not all, with solid provenance) recently under email discussion by a group of figure stone students.  The discussion was prompted by my having noticed a quasi-anthropomorphic appearance on a face of the recently identified “oldest Acheulean handaxe” in the world (see Nature cover photos above).  It could be interpreted as a “frowney face,” mouth upside down from KOD's example.   It shows, whether intended or not, the first Acheulean tools by their fundamental morphology could perhaps have stimulated similar facial recognition on stone artifacts in prehistory or been the result of such cognitive facilities.  In addition to our own finds, we have seen several examples which I found with very little effort looking at artifacts on the internet.  I found an example somewhat similar to KOD’s, with what looks to me like a possible “robust-type” looking human face, available to see at the about.com Acheulean tradition page.  This speaks to what may be the relative ubiquity of iconography in the earliest of our designed tools.:

Photo 3) in this photo anyway, even with the scale, the base of the artifact could be interpreted as an “eye.”  The creation of the bi-face centered around the empty fossil space may have been well intended by the maker to create an icon, somewhat like the fossil-featuring on the famous West Toft’s handaxe described by John Feliks, knowing in planned advance an eye would result on the final base of KOD's artifact, with a very unique relief feature (the fossil depression).

Contrary to a “late emergence” for figurative art around 50,000 BCE, these images are quite figurative and should be found by scholars and researchers on supposed “tools” in drawers and display cases yet to be identified, which are also, or perhaps quite entirely, intended works of art.  They may be found to date deep into the Acheulean.  Many combined “hand axe/sculpture” artifacts have similar, subtle to our contemporary eyes, facial profiles incorporated into the right center, or below, space of an edge like KOD's.  He may even have, then, an example of a more describable class of artifacts.


Face on right edge like KOD's example from PCN
Classic teardrop handaxe incorporates a subtle face

Face on right edge like KOD's example from PCN
Artifact from the about.com Acheulean tradition page.

Face on right edge like KOD's example from PCN



Face on right edge like KOD's example from PCN
This face has a grotesquely exaggerated (pointed) nose


In the lower right of the Acheulean artifact here, is a worked, face looking off to the lower right corner of the frame.  It has two eyes, pointed nose, and an agape mouth.


Ursel Benekendorff of Germany has been in the vanguard of Stone Age art study and research for 25 years. She well-documents examples of early imagery and iconography, with standardization apparent from the number of types she has identified and has among 2000 photographs at her website:

http://www.schafftwissen.de/index.html

KOD's example from PCN may be yet another example of the type of artifact Ursel has described for over two decades and which continues to be forsaken by the archaeology establishment despite its common occurrence and seeming importance to understanding our full human heritage.

-kbj

09 October 2011

Taking a new look at pitted stones: see the world's oldest optical illusions as visual, meditative, "mantra stones"

Taking a new look at pitted stones: 
see the world's oldest optical illusions as "mantra stones"
(Imagine the cupule as a dome or sphere) Perry County, Ohio, U.S.A.

Licking County, Ohio, U.S.A.
Focus on the center of a cupule and watch it transform into a sphere

Taking a new look at pitted stones: see the world's oldest optical illusions as "mantra stones"

I have noticed a property of pitted stones, or maybe they fit the definition of "cupules," is that even though they are concave creations in stone, one may focus visual concentration on them and make a gestalt shift to force the brain to perceive them as spheres, or as convex, essentially turning a cupule from a half-sphere scoop out of the rock to a dome protruding from the rock.  One may then control, or "manage" the visual illusion, by depressing and bumping out the sphere shape in one's mind while looking at the artifact and switching back and forth from both perspectives.  One does this by focusing on the center of the cupule and referencing only its perimeter.  The affect is somewhat like an object moving from 2 into 3 dimensions on a movie or computer screen.  People often desribe it as "popping out at me." This illusion can apply in person with an artifact or in photography.  

Because many of these artifact features have no apparent use as "nut cracking 
stones," "paint cups," or "grinding hollows," the often cited "meaning" or "purpose" for them by North American archaeologists, I wonder if cupules may have had some other, important, function. Having used visual focal points such as the cupule/dome, concave/convex, illusion in the past for my own self-hypnosis purposes, I wonder if they may have been used to invoke or enhance brain trance-states, meditation or self-hypnosis, in prehistory. The two photos above both "work" for me to achieve the alternating concave/convex perceptions. Perhaps you can experience the "cupule as convex" illusion too. Focus on the center of a cupule and watch it transform into a sphere.  Imagine the cupule is a dome, globe, or planet.

The "cupule as dome or sphere," rock art convex/concave illusion, and cupule purpose and use as a "stone mantra," are first described here at portablerockart.com, according to my amateur, internet-based, research to date. I do not seem to have access to all of the source materials more readily available to academic researchers but will continue to work on the cupule subject as a layperson.

"The hollow face illusion," described here, also applies to cupules (domes), according to amateur archaeologist Ken Johnston

Take a look at visualfunhouse.com, altered reality section, hollow face optical illusion. The same visual principles of perception and illusion can operate with cupules according to Johnston


"To: Ken Johnston
 Subject: Cupules
Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2011 21:40:46 -0500

You can use my name/location if you'd like... my name is Jake Dixon and I live in Knox County, Illinois which is where these were found. They were found 1 mile apart from another in a creek. This is my "hotspot" while arrowhead hunting and typically find artifacts that people have labeled to be an Archaic site with some possible Paleo artifacts as well. Let me know if you need addtional pics or information... it's scary how similar these 2 rocks are in regards to the size and depth of the hole.

Thank you"


Knox County, Illinois, finds by Jake Dixon




TIP: Focus on the center of a pitted stone (cupule) and watch it transform into a sphere.

These pitted stones (possibly cupules) from Knox County, Illinois, do not appear to be associated with any animal imagery. If the concave/convex illusion were indeed recognized in prehistory, it may have been quite a novelty item, or coffee table piece, so to speak. However, it seems more likely with all the work to create cupules, within ideological parameters, it was done for a more serious purpose.

Could these have been used as portable meditation stones, or "mantra stones?" The meditative practices could have developed in the "old world" on fixed stone surfaces, such as in caves or along with petroglyphs on stone walls. A highly mobile population could have adopted this practice and used portable stones to meditate in multiple places or in places where no fixed stone surfaces exist. 



Licking County (left) and Perry County, Ohio pitted stones found by Ken Johnston.  Also see prior posting on the pitted stone/possible cupules topic.

Perry County cupule with scale

Licking County cupule with scale

Duncan Caldwell, Paris, France, identified an "optical illusion" of the European Upper Paleolithic, in 2010, of an elephant/bovid polymorphic sculpture which can viewed alternately as a European bison and a mammoth. Identification of the cupule as convex, or cupule as a dome, optical illusion associated with certain pitted stones, or cupules, (Johnston, 2011), would make cupules/domes the world's oldest optical illusions if they were intended or recognized in prehistory. Cupules are dated to as early as the lower Palelolithic, from 290,000 to 700,000 BCE. They could be then also the earliest figurative art- they are representations and reflections of spheres which activate when the illusion is perceived.  It is a symbolic transformational process from cupule to dome which may have been given cultural signification by human ancestors.  The cupule illusion phenomena may demonstrate an acknowledgement of knowing something may also be or mean something else- even "opposites" like a cup and a dome.  Because they number in the many thousands, on 5 continents, cupules are the ubiquitous optical illusions of prehistory.

nationalgeographic.com, "Worlds oldest optical illusion?" bison/mammoth artifact, could be replaced by the cupule/dome illusion which, if recognized at the time they were made, pre-dates it by a couple hundred thousand years, Johnston says

Thanks go to Jake Dixon for his identification of two pitted stones from Knox County, Illinois, and for allowing us all to see photos of artifacts which could have been used as portable mantra stones.



-kbj

08 October 2011

Rocks' pits may be art "cupules" on Columbian mammoth sculpture forms

Pitted artifact found by Ken Johnston in Perry County, Ohio
This artifact may include imagery of the Columbian mammoth, species identifiable by the "bump" depicted at the top of the head.

 Columbian mammoth reconstruction

Buckeye Lake mammoth cupule stone #1 (of 2) was found in the disturbed soil of new subdivision road construction activities, on the south shore of Buckeye Lake, Perry County, Ohio.  Cupules, often identified by mid-west American archaeologists and collectors as "nutting stones," or "paint cups," or "grinding hollows," often appear to have had very limited or no evidence of use as tools.  The Buckeye Lake, Ohio, examples have discernible peck marks lining the cups, seemingly untouched by human action since the time they were created.  The 3 cups on the 2 stones seem to have been created under a preconceived idealistic form within definable size and shape parameters. This raises the possibility they are in fact symbolic cupules and were never used to crack nuts open.

Visual arts Cork (Ireland) web page on prehistoric cupules


To date, only a few proboscidian images have been documented in North America.  Examples are the Old Vero Beach Mammoth/mastodon (Purdy at. al. 2010), the Utah petroglyph recently described by Malotki and Wallace (2011), and Juan Armenta's 1959 find in Mexico.  Please see Pleistocene Coalition News, several issues, link is on right screen panel for free newsletter.  These images are all similar in that they are glyphic representations by use of incisions or organized pecking ("A line is a dot that went for a walk" -Paul Klee) made on stone or bone.  They are essentially "line drawings" of proboscideans.  Archaeological investigators would do well to consider the possibility of such imagery expressed in portable rock sculpture form, often "almost invisible" (A. Day), subtle to our visual-media-saturated brains, invoking only the most essential visual elements to allow one to "assemble a picture," often incorporating natural stone forms, which can signal recognition and signification of these awsome animals by America's earliest human inhabitants.  All art requires some level of participation on the part of the receiver.  My opinion is archaeologists need to participate a little more in order to begin to understand what art so far removed in time from us is all about.  As Ohio figure stone investigator Alan Day of the Day's Knob site has taught, "Know what you see, don't just see what you know." 

This is the reverse side of cupule stone #1.  It has a second cupule, exactly opposing the cupule on the other side, so the cupules almost touch at the center of the stone.  Human agency on this rock is not an issue and gauging the probability of intent to create mammoth imagery was given support by the recent find of a second cupule stone (photos below), which has significant agricultural plow damage.  It has the overall mammoth silhouette shape, remnants of diagnostic "bump" on top of the head, stands upright in correct ground orientation on the only edge which allows it to stand, and has evidence of the very bottom of a cupule on the reverse side which may have been destroyed by plow action in historical times.

This cupule stone #2 was discovered 3 weeks ago in a display case at the Buckeye Lake Historical Society Museum.  A special thanks to museum director J-me Braig for arranging to loan me the artifact for photography and examination. A second cupule on the reverse side, like stone #1 has, may have been removed by plow action.  Just a tiny bit of the absolute bottom of a possible second cupule is found on the reverse side, exactly opposite the cupule seen in photo above.
Both Ohio cupule stones were found along the modern day shoreline of Buckeye Lake, a former Ice Age glacial terminus swamp/lowland, ephemeral lake area.  The cupules were found about 5km distance from each other.  Buckeye Lake is about 8km from the Burning Tree (golf course) mastodon find site.  So, there is record of human/proboscidean contact very close to the find sites of these possible mammoth sculptures.






Mammoth cupule stone #2 at left, #1 at right, seen side by side for similarities in raw materials, cupules and "mammoth form" perhaps as intended as the cupules themselves.

To establish precedent creation of single cupule, portable, zoomorphic sculptures, from Neolithic age in Europe please see Don's Maps site for photos of "Altar from house No. 45, Lepenski Vir Ib, carved in the likeness of a fish, possibly a carp. Photo: "Lepenski Vir" by Dragoslav Srejović 1972." The site is located in modern day Serbia.

http://www.donsmaps.com/lepenski2.html


A cupule with touching meandering groove, from Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India.  It dates from 290,000 to 700,000 BCE.  It seems so interesting that the behavior of creating cupules dates back so far in the "old world" and may have persisted into, or re-emerged, in North America.

Perry County, Ohio

06 October 2011

"Sir Nameless"

 "Sir Nameless" pictured with his shadow.
Silhouette sculpture on stone plaque shows faces on both sides
Licking County, Ohio, find by Ken Johnston and Lyn Niday

This facial profile sculpture is from a newly disturbed soil context from construction activities at a tree park about 5km from Buckeye Lake in southern Licking County, Ohio. The context was sterile of glacial deposits and had only native Ohio bedrock-type limestone and sandstone objects and naturefacts.  The immediate context (3m radius) also produced a couple of crude tools, coarse stone lithic debris and two other suspected art pieces (a bird and a feline) which will be the subjects of future postings on this blog.  "Sir Nameless"- Beautiful, narrow, facial profile sculpture shows faces on both sides, named after the 

Thomas Hardy poem, "The Children and Sir Nameless"

Sir Nameless, once of Athelhall, declared:
"These wretched children romping in my park
Trample the herbage till the soil is bared,
And yap and yell from early morn till dark!
Go keep them harnessed to their set routines:
Thank God I've none to hasten my decay;
For green remembrance there are better means
Than offspring, who but wish their sires away."

Sir Nameless of that mansion said anon:
"To be perpetuate for my mightiness
Sculpture must image me when I am gone."
- He forthwith summoned carvers there express
To shape a figure stretching seven-odd feet
(For he was tall) in alabaster stone,
With shield, and crest, and casque, and word complete:
When done a statelier work was never known.

Three hundred years hied; Church-restorers came,
And, no one of his lineage being traced,
They thought an effigy so large in frame
Best fitted for the floor. There it was placed,
Under the seats for schoolchildren. And they
Kicked out his name, and hobnailed off his nose;
And, as they yawn through sermon-time, they say,
"Who was this old stone man beneath our toes?"

-THE END-



"Sir Nameless" under camera flash illumination

Perhaps statistical mathematical analysis can be brought to bear on the subject of art candidate rocks such as this one.  There are approximately 12 edge lines comprising the profile of the face along the left side of the stone as pictured above.  Each of the edges is in proportionally correct size, shape, grading and angular alignment to compose a human face.  It seems statistically unlikely mother nature could do all the work to make a 12 point face at this level of exquisite detail.  One bad angle, one disproportionately sized edge, would impact the dramatic realism of this high art piece.  A second bad characteristic would have exponential degradation of the visual processing of the image as a "face."  It reminds me of something I read once:  how many bites out of a cutlet does it take before it is no longer a cutlet?  Only a human can sculpt an object like this.  The art and tool context of the find makes artificiality quite certain here.
  
With scale

Side 2 with scale

Thickness of stone plaque seen here



02 October 2011

Junior archaeologist and paleontologist Brennah Thomas, age 8, discovers a worked, scallop-shaped, plaquette as "canvas and frame" of fossils

Licking County, Ohio, find by Brennah Thomas, age 8
(click photo to expand)
A worked, scallop-shaped, stone provides both "canvas and frame" for the artist to highlight round and scallop-shaped limestone fossils.  The plaquette seems to have had a number of discrete breaks around its edges, 11 by informal count, made to form the ultimate shell-like shape of the object.  The entire profile appears worked.   

By virtue of her young age, Brennah T. has a good eye for anomalous and sometimes humanly worked stones, not being as weighed down by the culturally derived baggage which inevitably biases the older investigator.  This was a surface find from a prehistoric cultural site producing tools and lithic debris which she brought to my attention because "It's like a shell with fossils."  She picked it up as a possible artifact based on her familiarity with the appearance of them, its unique shape, and then noticed the little fossil inclusions  


A scallop shell line drawing to compare to the outline shape of Brennah's find.  John Feliks, Pd.D., of the University of Michigan, has written on the subject of fossils inspiring early visual arts as evidenced by the archaeological record and his geometric analyses.  Dr. Feliks is a founder of the Pleistocene Coalition, a link found to that organization's web site is located in the right side screen panel.  Here is a link to his web site on the fossil art subject:

Impact of Fossils on the Development of Visual Representation by John Feliks, Ph.D.

Reverse side of the artifact
(click photos to expand views)
Could this iconic sculpture be somewhat similar to the famous West Tofts, U.K., handaxe, where it appears the tool maker centered the design of the tool to feature a natural scallop shell fossil in the dead center as if to add an aesthetic, decorative, or even symbolic touch to the tool?  The shell shape does not appear to have a functional purpose but it is battered and marked as if it could have served various minor purposes on the reverse side.  Interesting circular incision marks, like those created from reed drills, could be located on this side 2.  It looks like prehistoric drilling could have been done to facilitate removal of the circular fossils from the stone, or that these fossils leave holes that look like reed-drilled ones when they fall out naturally.
Related to fossils, I made a blog posting in March regarding fossil-featuring to make a black fossil or stone inclusion the center of a "pressure flaked flower" on the top of a crude grinding flint tool.  It may be found at this link: