29 December 2013

Micro bird figure and other portable rock art may help define expedient stone tools not yet well-described by archaeologists


Nadia found this 3cm bird in a context of many other portable rock art finds

"Lithic cultural debris" from a one foot square area in Nadia Clark's yard in Prescott, Arizona

From the one foot square

This kind of material is not a part of the natural stone background found in Nadia's locale. It is found by Nadia in concentrations which indicate they are human deposits. Upon close examination these stones have been shaped or shaped by use wear and may represent the kind of "pre-Clovis" stone tool material archaeologists should be looking for in the search for the earliest Americans. Early peoples in America may not have used bifacial flint knapping technology but may have used bone tools and bone spear tips which have not survived time. Their other implements may have been expedient natural forms like these and the presence of iconographic material like these small bird sculptures supports the idea of a human source for the deposits.

Two other stone bird figures identified by artist - turned amateur archaeologist, Nadia Clark. Nadia's finds are geographically very close to finds seen in the recent posting of other stone figures identified by Duane in Prescott, Arizona.

27 December 2013

Mousterian iconographic art lurks unrecognized within objects Archaeology has interpreted exclusively as tools

"Face mask hand axe"
From Verberie, OISE (60north, Paris France), 11 x 6 cm--4.2 x 2.3 in.
ca. 300,000 to 40,000 BP

This French Mousterian hand axe has been worked to incorporate imagery of the "one eye open, other eye closed or missing" motif on this side and a subtle human facial profile on the obverse side. An inclusion in the stone serves as the right "eye" and the maker of the hand axe has retained a part of the stone's cortex as the left "eye" and the "nose." The result is a "face mask hand axe."

Side 2: It should not be difficult for archaeologists and collectors to identify potential iconographic objects among their artifacts if time is taken to examine them very closely. I would consider my interpretation of a face on the edge here as "weak" but the relative clarity of intent of the maker to invoke the "one eye" motif make it worth reporting the observation here.

Side 2 may also have a "face mask" representation

25 December 2013

If Brazilian agate object was worked by a human, it may be a first example of the "one eye open, other eye closed or missing" portable rock art motif from South America

Is it a worked face mask in agate from Brazil?

A rock collector in Thailand acquired this piece of Brazilian agate at a geology fair in Tucson, Arizona. It was interpreted as a "Phantom of the Opera" type face mask by Tira Vanichtheeranont who thought it might be interesting to blog readers here.

It appears it could have been worked to realize a human head icon with the "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" motif as seen in Eurasia and North America. The stone's rind, or cortex, looks to have been selectively removed on the left side of the face.


Are the small indents on the back side of the mask icon created by nature or human grinding on the stone?

This may be a grinding technique to remove most of the stone's cortex (decortification) from this side in order to expose the beauty and translucence of the agate material. This would open up the back of stone to transmit light to the front in the case this piece was a manufactured "lithophane" (Johnston 2011) as is seen in similar material and one-eyed motif from the Dennis Boggs Oregon collection as presented earlier on this blog.

It seems possible small ground holes like this were used to remove stone on the face mask side of the stone, then smoothed down by broader grinding to remove the remaining ridges. Evidence of the ground holes may be seen in the surface "rippling" of the figure's mouth and left side of the "nose."


Compare Brazil (left) and Oregon, USA, (right)

Please compare the imagery on the Brazilian object to this suspected artifact with the "one eye open, other eye closed or missing" motif from the Dennis Boggs collection, Irrigon, Oregon.

Hamburg-Wittenbergen, Germany, c. 200,000 BP (Clactonian)

Photographer © Walther Matthes. Matthes, W. (1969). Eiszeitkunst im Nordseeraum. Otterndorf, Gr: Niederelbe-Verlag; (1964/1965). Bild 62. From originsnet.org

Thank you Tira for sending along this fascinating object from Brazil.

23 December 2013

In light of Paleoamerican "back migration" hypothesis, one-eyed lion head figures could have originated in North America

Ohio portable rock art "One-eyed lion head" is one of several North American examples

One-eyed lion head, found in context of dozens of feline figures from the Mahoning River valley, Canfield, Ohio. Find and interpretation by Allen Deibel, part of his "Stone cat collection." Canfield is just 54 miles from the famous Meadowcroft Rock Shelter, with human presence dated to 19,000 to 16,000 years ago.

This ceramic lion head from Dolní Věstonice, Czech Republic, was interpreted by Ken Johnston as depicted with a missing left eye. The right eye on the figure is a circle with the eye element in slight relief, the left eye is depicted as an empty space.

With the possibility of "back migrations" from North America to Eurasia, we do not know where motifs common to both continents originated, or if they originated together when the Beringia land bridge was open. Beringia has been open to migration of animals and people for 200,000 of the last 500,000 years.

Quartzite figure of human head in left profile found by Allen Deibel, Canfield, Ohio, was featured in an earlier posting on this blog. This head has a "Neanderthal-like" appearance with no chin.

AUTHOR NOTE ON FIELD FINDS: Amateur archaeologists and artifact hunters like Allen Deibel and myself cannot go just anywhere and find "rocks that look like things (mimetoliths)." Having been presented with many opportunities to search stone, cobble and pebble rock material which was not likely associated with any prior human context yields zero suspected portable rock art finds. If a reader is of the mind that these are just rocks that people could find anywhere, anytime, with just a little imagination, I challenge you to go find one, better one that looks like it might have been worked, better two similar iconic stones which have been worked, then two in immediate proximity, then a third from a nearby site. The chances of these objects being a function of natural chaos dissipates when reason, common sense and statistical analysis are applied to the archaeological interpretations. The key is the ability to access the old soils which contain the lithic remains of the peoples who practiced these art traditions. Remember conversely, the art may used to identify the places which could contain other evidence of early human activity, including tool forms which have not been recognized to date.

20 December 2013

Stone "head mask" from archaeological site in Russian Beringia places art motif at Eurasian/North American gateway

Illustration of a "Stone head" from the Paleolithic site at Siberdik, Russia

This stone head places the "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" Paleolithic art motif in Beringia, which may be evidence of its continuity into North America.

Image source:
Early Art of the Northern Far East - The Stone Age
By M.A. Kiyiyak, Translated by Richard L. Bland
page 48, (Excavations of N. N. Dikov).
published by the Shared Beringia Heritage Program, U.S. National Park Service

One of many North American examples of  "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" motif from the Dennis Boggs collection, Irrigon, Oregon. Despite its "natural looking" appearance to many people, I argue such examples were in fact "retouched" after desirable natural forms were found by Stone Age artisans. 

Archaeologists must concede they do not already know everything about ancient technologies which may have been used to carve, incise, sculpt, shape, break and otherwise remove or alter stone surfaces.

If examined by unbiased and highly qualified lithic scientists, I am confident many, if not most, examples like this will reveal aspects of deliberate human agency. Even when they are "just manuported geofacts," I argue they are no less significant to the development of archaeological knowledge. 

16 December 2013

"Natural-looking" portable rock art precludes scientific examination despite earlier success at demonstrating human agency and deliberate incorporation of natural features

Artifact from Kostenki I site, Don River valley Russia
Source: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1970), pp. 129-136

An object from Seneca County, Ohio, on display in the "Field Finds" contest case at the recent state wide meeting of the Archaeological Society of Ohio had some striking similarities to the artifact pictured above from Russia. It was labeled "See the face? (It's a joke)." I explained to the finder that it may not be a joke, that he might have an example of an intentionally worked stone. When I told him the two nostrils and mouth appeared to have been added (carved) into the stone he mentioned that someone else at the meeting had made the very same observations and comments to him. I provided my card and he indicated he would email some photos of the object but they have not yet arrived.

I received a note last week from a blog reader and it raises an important issue. The "natural looking" aspect of much of the suspected portable rock art identified by amateurs does seem to lead to prompt dismissal of claims of artificiality and precludes qualified scientific examination of the material.

"Hello Ken,

I regularly watch your updates, and this is very interesting reading your articles. In some cases, like in the last post, I have my doubts about  human modification of the stone. Of course I do not know how this rock behaves, is it soft, or is it hard, but from what I see it looks so natural and not at all carved.

In such case, I would not say it has no meaning for anthropogenic origins such as being a brought in stone (manuport), but the modification by humans I can either detect on the surface of this stone ( how would you make eyes on  hard surface? Using a pointed stone, it must be very small, carving of stones usual have been found back on stone types like lydite and sandstones)...

At the Oregon pebble I do not see any differences in the natural bending lines at the surface and the eyes/ mouth. If there would exist a possibility to carve such small pebbles / small stones, I am very interested in how they did it. Has this been done by experiments?

Maybe I just look wrong and cannot see the right technique. In my own observations of man-made modification, there is usually always a difference in the starting material and the modificated part, i.e. the surface looks different ( more dull, more smooth or more shiny, etc...). I am wondering why this is not the case on the presented rock art pieces.

- but this would not indicate the piece could not have been recognised as a man-s face and served as a manuport... ( to my opinion)

Meanwhile I continue with the search for Palaeolithic artifacts and besides of the recognition of some archaeologists in France, this  is also a subject of discussion. But so is archaeology, which makes it very interesting...!

With my regards,

Jimmy"

I am not able to answer all of Jimmy's questions as I often ask the same questions myself. The claim of "carving" of the stone in the last posting is made based on the assessment of the finder and then myself based on our experience with suspected worked art material, the context of the find, its possible expression of a known portable rock art motif (one eye-open, other eye shut or missing) and possible use of a small stone inclusion as the right "eye" which is seen in other suspected examples. It is a sum of our personally developed knowledge based on amateur field experience and the work of many others who have been investigating this subject in Europe and the U.S. for many years.

On this blog I am calling for scientific scrutiny of these similar observations of amateurs, including myself, to generate interest that might bring needed expertise and resources to suspected portable rock art art objects. I have not attempted experiments to duplicate the exact art technologies because they are not known and not accepted as legitimate and I'm a rather poor artist. I think microscopic work must be completed to prove the phenomena exists, it needs to be found in situ, duplicated in situ, then artisans and replicators might determine the lithic materials and techniques used in production of iconic portable rock art. Flintknapper Bob Doyle of Maine has does some art duplication in the "old world" style in chert material.

Here is some work which may inform amateurs and professionals alike on this important topic. From the paper "Polyikonic Sculpture from the Upper Paleolithic Site of Kostenki I."


"...in a series of cases, a surface which appeared to us untouched or natural, in actuality had traces of human handiwork (incisions and scratches) on it."
Source: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1970), p. 136


Flint and crystal rabbit figure found by Ken Johnston at Flint Ridge, Ohio, was thought to be a geofact by a university lithics specialist but was recognized as an artifact by a top flint knapper very familiar with the Vanport Formation of chert there.

Two iconic flint objects I identified from Licking County, Ohio, were inspected by a senior archaeological lithics technician at a United States university. She determined they were not intentionally worked by humans but were the coincidental result of the chaotic forces of nature. When I showed the same two objects to Mr. Chris MiIller (Ohio) who to my understanding is regarded as a "Top 5" flint knapper in the world, he confirmed both were indeed artifacts and proceeded to explain how he made that determination. Mr. Miller said he and others who search for knappable quality chert at Flint Ridge, Ohio, were well aware of figures of "caribou, rabbits and people" which could be found in unnatural numbers on the ridge. I have learned to give more weight to expertise like Chris's than to the typical university lab.

There is strong desire among archaeologists, both amateur and professional, for portable rock art to be and look the way they expect it to be, or the way they think it should be. In a science, such personal bias and preferences must be dropped. Under proper and needed scrutiny, the suspect material itself will tell us how it came to be. Art is in the eye of the beholder and we are not the beholders of this ancient art. We are merely given these rare opportunities to have a small glimpse into the material life of Stone Age peoples and when we demand it be like the art we already know, we miss this entire supra-class of artifacts which can tell more about the lives of ancient peoples than anything else which remains to be found of them.

The "Oregon carved pebble" in the last posting and many others are available for further investigation. If intended iconography were to be confirmed on a quarter dollar sized pebble from Irrigon, Oregon, it might open a can of worms for North American Archaeology. It's time for those more brave and less squeamish to tackle this line of inquiry with the expertise and resources it deserves. Until then, amateurs will continue making and sharing their observations.

Source for images seen here:
Polyikonic Sculpture from the Upper Paleolithic Site of Kostenki I
Author(s): E. E. Fradkin and Richard G. Klein
Source: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1970), pp. 129-136
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40315747 .

(click to expand view)

Link to Pleistocene Coalition News

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06 December 2013

Oregon carved pebble depicts smiling one-eyed face in left 3/4 profile

Dennis Boggs collection, Irrigon, Oregon

Carved "one eye missing" face portrait, depicted as smiling and looking to the left, Dennis Boggs portable rock art Collection, Irrigon, Oregon. The right eye is depicted as a small, precise element and the left eye is depicted as a large, distressed, empty area. Rather than artistic foreshortening, the left eye may be carved in the tradition of the "one eye ope, other eye shut or missing" motif seen in Europe and the United States.

This pebble is the size of a US quarter dollar coin and speaks to the need to carefully examine all stone material from archaeological sites for work patterns outside the normal tool typologies.

04 December 2013

El Juyo cave, Santander, Spain, "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" stone face associated with early religious sanctuary

MANKIND'S OLDEST SHRINE DISCOVERED IN SPAIN
By TOM FERRELL

American and Spanish scientists have reported finding the earliest intact religious sanctuary from the early Stone Age at El Juyo Cave, an archeological site in northern Spain near the seaport city of Santander.

The scientists said they believe the sanctuary was built 14,000 years ago, which would make it mankind's oldest known religious shrine. Other than burial sites, the previous oldest known shrines are in the Middle East and are about 9,000 years old.

The El Juyo sanctuary contains a free-standing sculptured stone head, interpreted by the scientists as that of a supernatural being. On one side of the sculpture is the visage of a human being, and on the other is that of an animal, probably a cat.

Scholars had long hoped to find evidence that would clearly show the existence of religious behavior or ritual in the Paleolithic Era. Cave paintings, decorated artifacts and burial offerings, many archeologists believe, suggest religious belief but in many cases may have alternative interpretations.

The El Juyo sanctuary, details of which were published this summer by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and by the History of Religion, an American journal, was discovered by Dr. Leslie G. Freeman and Dr. Richard G. Klein, both anthropologists at the University of Chicago; by Dr. J. Gonzalez Echegaray, director of the Altamira Museum and Research Center in Santillana, Spain, and by Dr. I. Barandiaran of the University of Santander.

The excavation was financed by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the United States National Science Foundation. The site has been known since 1957 as the home of a late Paleolithic culture called Magdalenian III, which flourished about 14,000 years ago. The sanctuary occupied about 120 square feet just inside the mouth of the cave.

A shallow trench was found in the center of the complex, containing animal bones, new and unused spearheads and other artifacts. Atop the trench was a mound about 30 inches high that contained similar ''offerings of bones, spearheads and other artifacts, Dr. Freeman said, alternating with layers of carefully arranged rosettes of earth.

''It was as if the builders had scooped earth into small cups or buckets about 4 inches across, and then inverted them on top of the mound,'' Dr. Freeman said yesterday in a telephone interview. ''One circle of earth was in the center, surrounded by six more circles, their edges just touching.''

The mound itself was plastered over with a clay shell, and above this was a horizontal limestone slab 71 inches long, 47 inches wide and 6 inches thick, Dr. Freeman said, adding that the slab weighed nearly a ton.

The sculpture, 14 inches tall, was placed on a smaller mound facing the cave entrance, he said. A natural vertical fissure of the rock was used to divide the stone face into two parts: on one side, the half-face of a man with a moustache and beard; on the other, the half-face of a carnivore, most likely a lion or a leopard, with muzzle, whiskers and a single pointed tooth.

The conclusion that the site is a religious sanctuary rests on several factors, Dr. Freeman said. Noting that a sanctuary is defined as a place where some kind of collective sacred behavior takes place, he said the collectivity was demonstrated by the large stone.

''Given the amount of work required to move the limestone slab, at least 10 to 15 individuals must have participated in building the sanctuary,'' he said. ''It was a group undertaking, and that suggests a shared system of group beliefs.''

Dr. Freeman conceded that ''there could be a lot of collectively built monuments one wouldn't call ritual, if you can explain them as having some kind of technical economic use,'' and noted that many arrangements of large stones, in Europe and elsewhere, were clearly designed for the observation of astronomical events.

''But El Juyo is not explicable in economic terms,'' Dr. Freeman said. ''There's a whole lot of effort going on, none of which is visible after the structure is built. It is not economic activity.

''A final element in the definition of a sanctuary would be that these activities have to be designed to influence a culturally postulated supernatural being,'' the anthropologist said. ''There is a figure here, the stone sculpture. At a distance it looks like a human face, but when you get closer you find that it's got two natures, the human and the animal.''

The divided face of the sculpture, Dr. Freeman suggests, might have been meant to ''represent an awareness among the group of the difference between what is animal and what is human, and at the same time a fusion of the savage, instinctive side of life with the human, more culturally ordered side.''

In the 32 years since the New York Times article was written, older religious sanctuaries have been identified and described at originsnet.org. The "one eyed face mask" portable rock art meme has been described in Lower and Middle Paleolithic contexts, and in the United States, and is not always associated with split human/animal depictions as is speculated to be the case here.

Pietro Gaietto illustration (http://www.museoorigini.it) of the interpreted human/animal characteristics of the stone face carving from El Juyo cave, near Santander, Spain.

Mark Jones find, Piney Point, Maryland, in context of many "one open, one eye shut" stone figures (left) compared to El Juyo stone face (right). Both faces have similar "nostril divots."

29 November 2013

Flint bison and bear figures from the Chris Schram collection, from near Big Dry Creek, Westminster, Colorado, similar to European forms identified by Jan Evert Musch

 Bison in left profile, Chris Schram find and interpretation, Westminster, Colorado

Illustration of interpreted features of the bison

"Grazing Bison," Chris Schram collection, Westminster, Colorado

Interpreted by Chris Schram as a worked Grizzly Bear figure facing right

J E. Musch theory of standardization of bear and bison icons may be seen in Chris Schram's Colorado examples and explain the potential of "vagueness" produced by the template-like figurative forms in portable rock art. No individual art object is required to look just like the real-life figure, it just has to meet the visual trigger points to alert the viewer to the intended meaning within the understood design scheme.

Illustration © J. E. Musch. Musch, J. E. (1987). Beestachtig en Beregoed (deel 1). Archaeologische Berichten 18:108-129. Elst, NL. Page 120. From originsnet.org

27 November 2013

One-eyed face stone sculpture has human and feline qualities from Luigi Chiapparoli collection, at Montarsolo, Italy

One-eyed face stone sculpture has human and feline qualities from Luigi Chiapparoli collection, site at Montarsolo, Italy. Photo by independent rock art researcher Luigi Chiapparoli.

 Montarsolo, by Luigi Chiapparoli, High Trebbia River valley

The Italian sculpture from Montarsolo may be an example of therianthropy, where human and animal features are combined in one creature, like the famous Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel

25 November 2013

Artistic convention of adding nostrils can be used to assess artificiality and may reflect the makers' animistic world view of stone figures as "alive with the breath of life"

 
Mike Raver find, Muskingum County, Ohio

Mike Raver of Zanesville, Ohio, has discovered about a dozen sites in his locale along the Muskingum River which he interprets as producing portable rock art figures and sculptures. This is a non-glaciated area but the Wisconsin glacier Scioto lobes came within tens of miles and the area was subject to being part of the glacial melt water river systems as the glacier retreated northward in the final Pleistocene.

Ohio "nostrils" (left) Maryland "nostrils" (right)

The face mask figure from Ohio seems to have similarly incised "nostril divots" as this stone from the Mark Jones collection, Maryland.

Nose and nostril representations added to stone figures seem to be used to disambiguate the face and might reflect a desire to add or recognize a symbolic "breath of life" in these objects. This may be a clue to an animistic world view held by the makers where all the world, even the rocks, are considered to be alive.

Artistic conventions like nostril elements may be used to help assess the probabilities of human modification made to iconic portable rock objects.

Ohio (left) and Thailand (right) stone face mask figures

Mike Raver of Zanesville, Ohio, notes a similarity between his Ohio pebble face mask figure and this Stone face mask discovered from the cave near Kanchanaburi, Thailand, featured in an earlier posting

24 November 2013

"In, On and Infinity:" Incised lines may represent ideas and concept modeling rather than evidence of tool function

Texas incised stone found in an archaeological context by an amateur archaeologist

This find in Texas was interpreted as a tool but may be an example of straight edge use in a European Paleolithic marking tradition as seen in Germany and described by John Feliks in his paper "The Graphics of Bilzingsleben." Lower Paleolithic art and language traditions may have persisted for tens of thousands of years or people in North America could have independently developed their own marking schemes.  

Amateurs find incised stones frequently but there is little or no consideration of potential symbolic meaning for the engavings. My hope is that the symbolic possibilities of stone markings will eventually be included in the hypotheses developed for objects like this in North America.

Texas incised stone

"In, On and Infinity," a geometric interpretation of convergent and divergent incised lines by Ken Johnston
Having read some of John Feliks' work about Paleolithic engraved stones, I looked at this stone and could see the first line converging with the second, the second converging with the third farther out and the third line not converging with the fourth with the fourth line angled away so as not to converge with the other lines. When I made an illustration to see what this looked like if I continued the lines, it seemed quite possible this rock was a kind of exogram, containing a recording of geometric and possibly symbolically significant ideas.

As illustrated above these concepts could be described as: In (lines converge inside the stone perimeter), On (lines converge near the edge of the stone) and Infinity (lines never converge). These kinds of concepts are introduced in Feliks' work and it seemed I could develop a potential symbolic meaning for this Texas stone based on those concepts. It was quite strange when I saw the stone and it had this meaning, I felt as if I was intuitively reading a complex idea in a language Feliks had enabled me to recognize. Maybe more objects like this will come to light and show this possible 4 line pattern is more than a one-time chance occurrence.

Amateur and professional archaeologists in North America should avail themselves of the information available from other parts of the world and other temporal periods in order to have a broader range of possibilities in interpreting the meaning of incised portable rocks here.

21 November 2013

From Mekong Delta, Vietnam, a wedged pebble serves as an "eye" in artistically correct position and should be evaluated as an indicator of human agency

Tira Vanichtheeranont collection, Bangkok, Thailand

Tira writes: "This is a natural stone without any modification. The small pebble in the eye is also naturally stuck in and quite hard, can not be removed easily. This piece is found in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam area, end of the river before running to the sea. This piece looked like the actor in the movie "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame "




While Tira's interpretation is that this is a natural stone, it has visual and stoneworking aspects which are comparable to suspected sculptures identified by north west European archaeologists like Ursel Benekendorff (Germany) and Jan van Es (The Netherlands) and Hans Grams (Germany) in Lower Paleolithic contexts.

Evaluation for artifact status might include taking close petrological examination of the features illustrated above. They may indicate human intent to create a face icon in line with a long-lived portable rock art tradition.

Another possible south east Asian pebble-face mask from Tira's collection featured earlier on this blog. Remarkably, this pebble has a crevice on the obverse side in which there are two very tiny pebbles wedged in what may a human action rather than a natural coincidence.

One is square and one is round and they can be interpreted as serving as eyes with a round mouth below.

Winona Axsom find, Portland, Oregon, in context of other sculpted rocks, featured earlier on this blog

With examples of this motif in south east Asia and the North American west coast, and in north west Europe and the North American east coast, and from middle-America, this is an art tradition which may have spread or existed around the world.

Mekong delta, Vietnam, Tira Vanichtheeranont collection

Dennis Boggs collection, Irrigon, Oregon. Because this stone has been worked and is an artifact I think a very good chance a tiny foreign pebble has been inserted in the mouth crevice to serve as a "tooth." This is much like the tiny pebble serving as the left eye of the Vietnam object.