25 October 2012

Gem hunter's "Just a volcanic rock" from Topaz Mountain, Utah, worthy of expert evaluation of artifactuality

Mike Youtz find, Topaz Mountain, Utah

At the Skull-a-day.com web site, Mike Youtz writes

"Found this interesting Rhyolite rock while in Utah back in May 2011. We were wrapping up a two-week geology field class when we decided to visit Topaz Mountain in western Utah to do a little gem hunting. Instead I found this! Way cooler than a topaz in my opinion. At first glance I thought it was the petrified skull of some critter but nope, it’s just a volcanic rock. Enjoy!"

Any suspected portable rock art find outside of an archaeological context has a diminished value to our understanding of what transpired in the past. The find by Mike here is a good example of an object which is at least a mimetolith which could have been recognized and appreciated in prehistory, and possibly an artifact if it was altered in any way by the human hand.

Finds like this can be used to identify possible archaeological sites of significance where tools and other art objects might be found. An object with strong visual properties such as this should trigger an evaluation by archaeological science of the object itself and the context from where it came.

In my experience however, professional archaeologists would immediately make the same assessment as the gem hunter here did, and dismiss this jawless stone skull form as wholly a product of chaos, having no potential significance to a greater understanding of our human past. Sadly, these are opportunities lost for development of archaeological knowledge. Anomalies such as this skull deserve careful evaluation, not immediate dismissal. Only when archaeologists develop more specialized knowledge than the general public do they have any credibility in matters of portable rock art.

Some reasons why this object is a candidate for archaeological investigation:

1) a rounded aspect to the top of the skull which may be shaped by controlled flake removal
2) a larger left eye socket is in accordance with the known "one eye open, one eye closed/or missing" portable rock art motif seen in the Middle Paleolithic and seen in other American portable rock art objects of unknown age
3) possible flake removal under the left eye to shape the cheek
4) a symmetrical aspect to the stone which is aesthetically appealing

-kbj

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