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.
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,
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."
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 .
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