Denisovan Ancestry in East Eurasian and Native American Populations

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.


(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)

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


20 February 2012

Fly me to the moon

An exotic, "manuported," stone found at a Lower Paleolithic archaeological site in Belgium has a striking likeness to the earth's moon

Australian archaeologist and rock art scholar Robert G. Bednarik defines such objects as follows: "Manuports are unmodified objects transported and deposited by hominids, and they are distinguished by being of a usually striking material clearly foreign to the sediment containing the occupation deposit they occur in."

Archaeologist L. Jimmy Groen of The Netherlands writes "... sometimes I think, it was and it is ( now) people think, in the possession of a "look- like"object they are linked with the object, or have some power on the subject. Especially when an object is unique, people love to have it- see how many go for gold!

In this case I want to present to you an object I found in a context of oldest artifacts from the Kempen region- a basalt hammerstone and some basalt cores, together with chopping tools and a large cleaver - a round object which- according to me- has a great resemblance with our moon.

Now, after almost 6 years almost daily searching in gravel horizons, I never saw such a look a like piece before. It might be coincidentally they found at Bilzingsleben (Germany, Holstein, same period 400.000 BP) a carved bone with 14 small stripes ( moon- cycles? ). Maybe H. heidelbergensis was the first that was really thinking about the repeating patterns shown by the moon, sun and stars.

What is remarkable for this stone is, it is an imported piece that must have been found at an eroded surface, as I found it is of a tertiary age but I found it within the assemblage of pebble tools." -Jimmy Groen

Here is a link to the third article in an interesting series, by Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez (France), Paleolithic techniques and tools used to calculate space and time.

Hundreds of tourists touch this cut piece of a real moon rock each day in the main lobby of the National Air and Space Museum at The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


19 February 2012

Belgian "trimmed" artifact among tools resembles person whose hair is comprised of the stone cortex

Find by archaeologist L. Jimmy Groen, Kempen region of Belgium
(click photo to expand)

This artifact was found directly associated with flaked coarse tools at an archaeological excavation site in the Belgian Kempen and stood out for archaeologist Jimmy Groen because of its anthropomorphic visual qualities. Questions remain to be answered: were artifacts like this intended or recognized simple images in the past? Only with detection and documentation of such possible/suspected art at archaeological sites can patterns which may help confirm artifactuality begin to emerge. This stone could be interpreted as a human left facial profile where the cortext (lighter colored, smooth, original, natural rind) of the rock has been left in place to represent its likeness to hair on the head.

Groen writes: "As far as I can understand it, decortification of quartzite pebbles has been commonly applied in the tool technology of controlled flaking in the Belgian Kempen area. In fact, instead of real "flaking" this technique is based on slightly, carefully, trimming the pebble's surface, to remove both the cortex as well as parts of the inner structures, to get the desired shape of the pebble. I've noticed this on several unifacial and bifacial flaked pebble cores. Most usual this has been done to achieve a chopping tool, but trimmed edges occur also in unifaces.... So it is clear the making of such a shape, like the profile of a human face with this typical 'hairdressing' is a deliberate process."

Richard Wilson, a figure stone scholar from the U.K. and publisher of http//, writes: "He (Patterson, 1983) places value on recognising the patterns that characterise artefactuality including frequency: Even if nature can produce lithic objects resembling simple man-made items, nature is not likely to do this often. Therefore, the frequency of occurrence at a given location of specimens with similar morphologies is important in demonstrating probable manufacturing patterns. Production of numerous lithic specimens with consistent morphology is certainly not a habit of nature.”

Please see Jimmy Groen's web site, Arbannig, for more details on the archaeological context of this find. Mr. Groen discovered and identified the Kempen Stone Face nearby, which also represents a human face in left profile.

The Belgian Kempen region is home to the archaeological work of Groen and was home to some of the earliest peoples in this part of Northern Europe.  Groen continues to work the Kempen area which produced this artifact and it will be interesting to see what other visually ambiguous artifacts he may find. If he does, they will be reported here. Thanks to Jimmy for so generously sharing his artifacts and observations with


14 February 2012

"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck..." A fortuitous flint bird head with an etched eye (human face on reverse)

It appears this duck head image was formed as a part of a larger bulb of percussion.  The prehistoric artist recognized this and removed flint around the duck head component to provide the final shape of a duck's head to frame the fortuitous flint ripple formation.  At the top of the stone in the photo above one may see where an eye was made by etching and distressing the flint in the anatomically correct eye position.

This duck head is made of Flint Ridge flint and was found along the modern day shore of Buckeye Lake, Licking County, Ohio, in close proximity to other bird figures as seen on this blog.  Buckeye Lake is a former glacial terminus swamp, turned into a canal feeder lake for the Ohio & Erie canal in the mid 19th century, and the region produces artifacts from all cultural and temporal periods in great numbers.  The Flint Ridge lithic source is about 15km from the lake.

Detail of the intentional etching to add an eye to the duck figure stone.  Jacques Boucher de Perthes himself said the presence of an eye on a figure such as this " a sure sign of intent."

Reverse side shown with scale.  Flint removal to create a duck head shape may be seen around the edges.

An anthropomorphic component of a human face left profile portrait may be seen on the reverse side of the duck head.  The person's mouth appears agape.



13 February 2012

Kissy Birds II from Chesapeake Bay

Kissy Birds II, Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River find by Mark Jones

This suspected "paired birds" figure stone was found by Mark Jones from the D.C. area at Piney Point, Maryland, near the confluence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.  Mark is a fossil and artifact hunter who began to notice a subtle pattern of rocks looking like paired birds in concentrations where he was finding many other tool artifacts.  Many of the sculptures are heavily rolled in the environment and markings are faint but detectable, as is the case with this example.  Mark showed me dozens of these paired bird artifacts when I made a visit to Maryland to check them out.  Most are manuports with very little work to complete the images.

A few of them look like the birds have wrapped their wings around each other in a hug.  Mark and his wife now call the motif in their locate "kissy birds."  They have an exquisite example of paired birds facing away, almost unnaturally, in a position where they look angry.  They call that sculpture "Pissy birds."  I made an illustration to the photo at right to highlight what Mark saw, and what I see in this piece as well.  This was a gift from Mark so it a part of my collections now and a great memory of my visit to Piney Point.

Other artifacts Mark has found which have I have posted already are Kissy Birds and Pair of Incised Birds, a rare example of a portable petroglyph. The Kissy Birds posting was the first on this blog exactly one year ago and this second Kissy Birds posting marks the 100th entry made on

 A duck-head like view of the stone, with "eye divot" just like the birds on the other side. By numbers found by me and others, heads of ducks and other waterfoul must have a great significance in the American Stone Age art.

The stone has an anthropomorphic, torso-like in a view from the back side of the birds

Here is the figure stone on a centimeter(cm) grid for scale.  The eye of the bird on the right is made of a "V" shape incision and the bird on the left's eye is made of an incised rectangle.  The round, protruding, portion of the stone below the birds is egg-like.


10 February 2012

Bird taking flight from nest with egg (expressed as bulb of percussion)

Bird taking flight from nest with egg (expressed as bulb of percussion)

This artifact was found among other figure stones at a site near Buckeye Lake, Ohio, which has produced more than a dozen suspected flint bird heads and other mostly bird sculpture forms. The site is mostly covered now by a paved rest area along Interstate-70. If this creation is accepted as a "bird in flight" as I think was intended by its maker, it may have been inspired by the bulb of percussion and ripple found in the piece of flint. It is as if the bird is taking off into flight and leaving an egg in the nest. (Click photo to expand detail.)

The bulb of percussion (symbolically perhaps an egg in the nest or sun in the sky) in the flint is circled in white, eye and mouth illustration added to the suspected flying bird for visual orientation

There is a remarkable similarity shared here with the head of the suspected flying bird in the prior posting which seems to reinforce the possibility they are both intended depictions of flying birds, perhaps made in "the same tradition." This artifact was found about 15km from the Flint Ridge site of the prior posting, but is made of Flint Ridge material as well.


07 February 2012

"Bird in flight" from a Flint Ridge, Ohio, quarry known to produce art

Retouched object invokes "bird in flight" imagery and is made of Flint Ridge flint, Ohio's official state gemstone

This retouched object was found at Flint Ridge, Glenford, Ohio, in the Spring of 2011.  As the Canada geese and other birds are now migrating over my lake side home in Hebron, Ohio, I was reminded of the imagery of birds in flight which may have been recognized in this piece, and then modified by carving techniques to complete the form.  It is possible certain pieces were recognized as potential animal or people forms during the tool manufacture process and then set aside or perhaps touched up a bit to complete the idea suggested by the natural form.  In this case, a thinner and crystalline part of the flint may have appeared as the thin neck of a bird pushing the head forward in flight.

(click photos to expand detail)

Hohle Fels famous bird in flight (Germany, Auriginacian era) was carved of mammoth ivory. Water birds seem to be very important throughout paleoart and we can only imagine the perishable (wooden) bird sculptures which have been lost to time.  This is one of the most famous pieces of art mobilier in the world. This carved sculpture is approximately 32,000 years old.

Flint Ridge, Ohio, is known as one of finest sources of chert in North America, combining workability, beauty and strength.  This "bird in flight" was found in the same quarry location as "Peter Cottontail" and the "Least Bittern," among other postings on this blog, which increases the possibility it could have been recognized and worked in prehistory in a larger cultural context.  There may have been some artists working at this quarry site or these could be the by-product of creative-minded workers recognizing visual potential and then maybe "doodling" animal forms in stone while they took a break from making tools.


06 February 2012

Artist and rock collector discovers pierre figures near Prescott, Arizona

"Jean-Paul" (click photo to expand)
Discoveries made by N. Clark, Prescott, Arizona

N. Clark writes to "Two years ago, I started to find rocks with carvings of animals, showed them to family and friends and to the local archaic rock expert. Same response. All nature made. Until I showed them to this friend who saw what I saw. I do not have any archeological background. I just like rocks, appreciate beauty, creativity. I am looking at them with an artist's eye. I have been totally amazed by all the things I have seen and have been thinking: This is a BIG puzzle! (Nothing in the specialty books around here could give me a clue)."

This possible bird head form in left profile view could also be interpreted as incorporating a human facial right profile on the right side in this photo, each creature facing away from each other Janus-like.  This same "human face on back of bird's head" motif may possibly be seen on this duck head found in a West Virginia creek bed by Ken Johnston.  The 3rd photo at the link is best.

These Arizona finds are "in accordance" with Paleolithic pierres figures, or figure stones, identified from the "old world."  Often artists and others with keen eyes will bring rock objects they have found to the attention of archaeologists because their common sense tells them the objects have been humanly worked into "crude" tools or intended images.  These laypersons have not been prejudiced by formal archaeological training which is narrow and dogmatic in nature.  Even though these amateurs will explain the objects come from a concentrated area which makes co-incidence seem statistically unlikely to their intuition, archaelogists don't seem to understand the significance of this observation. Ken Johnston details the too-often outcome of such evaluations by "experts" who unfortunately are not really capable of such evaluations and could be missing the boat on old art in the Americas.  N. Clark may be finding indications of a human presence in her locale of Arizona much earlier than mainstream archaeology can admit at this time.  Sometimes, such objects are better evaluated by petrologists or geologists who are able to distinguish artificiality from natural forces capably.

Here is a blog established by N. Clark to share more of her finds.

American anthropology must begin to formally, rigerously, evaluate anomalous finds in a scientific manner or they risk losing credibility with their public constituency by lazily explaining all of them away as "lusus naturae."


01 February 2012

"Old Route 66 zoo" site announced in Missouri, dozens of suspected worked flint sculptures, site available for qualified archaeologists

Owl sculpture identified from the "Old Route 66 zoo."  The potentially very old site is available for archaeological investigation.

Stacy Dodd of suburban Memphis, Tennessee, reports the find of a large number of worked stones with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic qualities.  The find location is in South West Missouri near the old Route 66 and has been dubbed the "Old Route 66 zoo site."  The site is producing archaeologist-verified tools along with possible sculptures which are compatible in morphology with other select examples of portable rock art from the United States as well as North West Europe.  

The 5 acre area is privately owned and the landowner is eager to discuss the potential for scientific examination of the site with qualified archaeological investigators.  Artifacts have been surface collected and a test pit indicates many more remain.  Approximately 100 crude flint pieces having evidence of human agency as well as imagery have been identified so far.  Archaeologists who are interested in what could be a very old archaeological site in the middle of North America may contact Mr. Dodd at: for further information.

The owl above is a very nice example of an animal which makes a recurring appearance in paleoart.  Look for additional artifact photos from this exciting new Missouri site on this blog.

 OR66Z, 23JP1222