24 February 2012

"The little horny man" from Brazil: Really??? Professional archaeologists just as vulnerable to pitfalls of pareidolia as amateurs and laypersons


Oldest dated cave rock art in America, 9,000 to 12,000 BP. What does it represent (really)? Can we (ever) know what it meant in prehistory?

"The figure, which appears to be squatting with his arms outstretched, is about 12 inches tall from head to feetand about 8 inches wide. The phallus is about 2 inches long, about the same length as the man's left arm. "The figure, which we named 'the horny little man', is probably linked to some kindof fertility ritual," Mr Neves said.

Can these archaeologists really claim with any degree of certainty this image repersents a human being? On what basis? It has some vague similarity to a possible human interpretation but it could also represent a lizard, more than one creature or a map of a body of water, or nothing but insignificant "doodling." A large phallus? Pun intended, that seems like a stretch.  I don't see all this so clearly and if I rely on archaeological investigators to tell me what it is or what I should be seeing, I expect to be able to find it plausible.


Just because an image is proclaimed to represent a particular form by professional archaeologists does not mean they haven't been subject to the pitfalls of pareidolia, accusations which they readily hurl at amateurs who have also identified visually ambiguous objects. A case in point is this just identified rock art from a cave in Brazil, which is believed to be the oldest rock art yet discovered in the Americas at around 9,000 to 12,000 years old. It is not a portable piece, it is parietal, or wall art. However, its early date and rough association with an Australian Aboriginal type skull in Brazil makes it interesting and relevant to issues of portable rock art.

A generalized point I'd like to make is that the same image could be discovered by professional archaeologists who can make authoritative interpretations of the images and even claim "probable" uses of the images based on no ethnographic or scientific data whatsoever. Amateurs who bring images and objects like this to the attention of archaeologists are most often dismissed as "just seeing things."

Robert G. Bednarik has written an article about Creating Futile Iconographic Meanings. Here is a quote from the article:

"By far the most common interpretation of meaning in rock art is the iconographic interpretation of motifs by the observer. We are told what the beholder of the art thinks it depicts. In many cases, the motif has such outstanding diagnostic features that these identifications do sound convincing, but in many other cases the picture is not at all clear-cut. Moreover, many researchers define various aspects of the motif in an entirely subjective fashion: they tell us that the subject is running, falling, swimming, pregnant, praying, dead or whatever else they happen to perceive in the art."

Mr. Neves' statement "...probably linked to some kind of fertility ritual" is pure speculation. The word "possibly" is more appropriate, as there is no basis provided so far for an assessment of "probably." In whole, the statement that this image is a human form with large phallus worthy of a name like "Little horny man" is, in my opinion, official archaeological bullshit which damages the credibility and academic integrity of anthropology.


More appropriately, this cave art should be characterized more so like "A suspected zoomorphic or anthrpomorphic form with possible phallus." According to Bednarik, ascribing prehistoric meanings after so much time is not generally possible, so the statement "probably linked to some kind of fertility ritual" must be dropped.

The significance of a man-made image dated this old in South America should not be lost in all the bad information from archaeologists which accompanies the big news.

-kbj

(2/26/12 post publication note: I have made a comment received and my reply a part of the posting so they are not missed)

Samuel Feb 25, 2012 04:17 PM

You are right, but the original paper has no such interpretation ("fertility ritual"). The figure is anthopomorphic because it is standing and has no tail. Moreover, you have to know the context: there are several "C-shaped" head anthropomorphs in other portions of Brazil , they are holding clubs, having sex, etc. So, the intepretation of the figure being a man with a hard dick is very sound given the general context. Of course you can express your opinion, but it would be helpful if you had more knowledge on the topic. About the nickname, I believe scientists can show a bit of sense of humour once in a while...


Ken Johnston Feb 26, 2012 04:54 AM

I agree, it would be helpful if I had more knowledge on the topic, and it was not provided by these archaeologists. In archaeology, context is king. There was no information like this presented in the articles I read, thank you for clarifying. If you read the hundreds of comments left by newsreaders of several publications which released this news, the overwhelming majority have had the same reaction as I did, including several self-admitted archaeologists. Why include the information if you cant support it with the context background? A petroglyph of that age is significant itself. Archaeologists may think calling something a "little horny man" will help publicize their find but from the reaction of readers, they think this entire story is BS. So the great significance is missed because the archaeologists included questionable information with no context information. I question interpretations of "holding clubs, having sex" etc. This is an anthropomorph because it has no tail? Big jump there. You say the figure is standing, the archaeologists say he is sitting or squatting. Which is it? This is the problem trying to interpret meanings in this old material. In this image, it appears the creature may be holding a "C head" as you describe in his right hand. How is this explained? I say don't worry about it, it is human-made and dated, and is significant regardless of various differing interpretations made.


More comments I am including in the body of the post so they are not missed:

Samuel Feb 28, 2012 02:27 PM
Yes, I agree. It is man made and dated. All the rest is about primate (= humans doing science) behaviour. Some context, if anyone is interested:
(En Portuguese)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EbXp4CdB6w&feature=plcp&context=C3f8a247UDOEgsToPDskJrqbgoKvSB77FSZ7giEg2R

Ken Johnston Feb 28, 2012 03:06 PM
Thanks Samuel. With the context information you have provided, this concept is growing on me. Additionally, my theory after having thought about this, is that the "c-headed" figures you describe from Brazil may actually be representations of the human hand as we see today in "shadow puppets." The artist would possibly have fire in the cave for light and simply by holding up the arm and hand between the fire and the cave wall to make a talking puppet. Rather than real humans, these images may depict "spirits" emerging from hand puppetry. It allows the artist to transform himself into another being, then that being was committed to the permanence of the cave wall.

I may have already identified a North American similarity to the c-heads in an artifact from Tennessee, titled "Kermit..." as in Kermit the frog hand puppet. My thinking was this object represented a human hand in the basic hand puppet shape.

Kermit the frog: hand puppet stone

-kbj

5 comments:

  1. You are right, but the original paper has no such interpretation ("fertility ritual"). The figure is anthopomorphic because it is standing and has no tail. Moreover, you have to know the context: there are several "C-shaped" head anthropomorphs in other portions of Brazil , they are holding clubs, having sex, etc. So, the intepretation of the figure being a man with a hard dick is very sound given the general context. Of course you can express your opinion, but it would be helpful if you had more knowledge on the topic.
    About the nickname, I believe scientists can show a bit of sense of humour once in a while...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, it would be helpful if I had more knowledge on the topic, and it was not provided by these archaeologists. In archaeology, context is king. There was no information like this presented in the articles I read, thank you for clarifying. If you read the hundreds of comments left by newsreaders of several publications which released this news, the overwhelming majority have had the same reaction as I did, including several self-admitted archaeologists. Why include the information if you cant support it with the context background? A petroglyph of that age is significant itself. Archaeologists may think calling something a "little horny man" will help publicize their find but from the reaction of readers, they think this entire story is BS. So the great significance is missed because the archaeologists included questionable information with no context information. I question interpretations of "holding clubs, having sex" etc. This is an anthropomorph because it has no tail? Big jump there. You say the figure is standing, the archaeologists say he is sitting or squatting. Which is it? This sis the problem trying to interpret this old material. In this image, it appears the creature may be holding a "C head" as you describe in his right hand. How is this explained? I say don't worry about it, it is man made and dated, and is significant regardless of various differing interpretations made.

      Delete
  2. Yes, I agree. It is man made and dated. All the rest is about primate (= humans doing science) behaviour.
    Some context, if anyone is interested:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EbXp4CdB6w&feature=plcp&context=C3f8a247UDOEgsToPDskJrqbgoKvSB77FSZ7giEg2R

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Samuel. With the context information you have provided, this concept is growing on me. Additionally, my theory after having thought about this, is that the "c-headed" figures you describe from Brazil may actually be representations of the human hand as we see today in "shadow puppets." The artist would possibly have fire in the cave for light and simply by holding up the arm and hand between the fire and the cave wall to make a talking puppet. Rather than real humans, these images may depict "spirits" emerging from hand puppetry. It allows the artist to transform himself into another being, then that being was committed to the permanence of the cave wall.

      I may have identified a North American relation to the c-heads in an artifact from Tennessee, titled "Kermit..." as in Kermit the frog hand puppet. My thinking was this object represented a human hand in the basic hand puppet shape.

      http://portablerockart.blogspot.com/2011/07/kermit-tennessee-worked-stone-sculpture.html

      Delete
  3. Hello again Kenneth,
    I was studying the "Little Horny Man from Brazil" and I thought I would share some observations on the image. I don't see the image as it is sketched in the web page. I see a figure facing the left. The left arm is extended upward and to me appears to have a flame. In its right hand extending to the left is a small figure...perhaps a baby. The figure's head is leaning back towards the right...almost looking upward. And the figure is kneeling with its feet towards the right. The head may have a hat or other image on or above it. I just thought I would offer a different perspective. Thanks.

    Macario Solis

    ReplyDelete