11 October 2014

Today's rock collectors may occasionally encounter iconic rocks which have also been noticed in the past as mimetoliths and some may be worth examining for evidence of modification by human agency

Thath Chanuhacha collection, Bankok, Thailand

This rock is interpreted as the "Guardian of the Cave at Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand" by finder Thath Chanuhacha. Human facial profile facing left. Long and bound hair was common in antiquity in south east Asia.

This anthropomorphic stone found by rock collector Thath Chanuhacha of Bankok may also have been recognized and modified in prehistory. The find location at a cave entry, the anthropomorphic imagery detected by Thath and the possibility of an elephant head and trunk combined into the head of the human make this piece and the cave where it was found worth closer examination for art attributes or significance.

When the stone is rotated 90 degrees right, a possible figure of an elephant head and trunk may be seen in profile facing right. A "human on posterior of proboscidean" motif has been documented in North America on this blog.

Thath writes: "This is a jadeite cobble found in Ura river, Burma over a hundred years ago.  It is in natural shape and was hand polished by a Burmese tribe who live around the bank of the river.  It came to an American collector in the 1970s and finally I bought it from him in 2000."

  A mimetolith collected by Thath interpreted as a funny face with eyes, nose and tongue in mouth.

Another mimetolith collected by Thath at Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

"I don't know what this is, but I do feel an immediate bond with it"

The cartoon inadvertently addresses a significant idea in the archaeology of portable rock art. Today's finders and interpreters often have intuitive or common-sense based "feelings" and "sensibilities" about the iconic rocks they identify. This kind of "bond of spontaneous recognition" should not be so quickly dismissed as may be implied by the comedy of the cartoon.

There are several kinds of reasons humans may have an innate sense, in fact a biological and genetically encoded imperative, for recognition of rocks which have been gathered or modified by other humans. Examples include:

1) identification of other contemporaneous humans (threats or potential mates) in or near the same geographic space

2) identification of nearby suitable tool stone resources

3) identification of stone tools which are immediately available for reuse or repurpose

4) identification of areas which may good for exploitation of local resources (site habitation, paths of animal migration, seasonal plant foodstuffs, etc.)

5) in the case of examples of culturally originated visual forms, detection of specific information which may encoded in art objects as stone "exograms," or external information storage devices like today's post-it notes

These perceptions and assignment of significance to objects are assisted by our cognitive faculties of pareidolia, apophenia and hierphony.

These intuitive observations which are experienced broadly by non-formally trained persons seem to be intellectually killed by the field of archaeology because of its institutionalized and protected knowledge which has become faulty in a case of déformation professionnelle. The knowledge is mostly all etic (R. G. Bednarik, link on right sidebar) or involving analysis of external cultural phenomena from one's own cultural perspective rather than from a more neutral or empathetic position.

The biases of the discipline of Archaeology cannot prevail over the observations of astute laypersons in the long run, with more free association of images and ideas on the internet as opposed to the closed publication systems in anthropology and their thorough inability to process anomalous artifacts and information.

There is no other academic pursuit than archaeology which has had so many of its major twists and turns and developments and advancements assisted by amateur observers. Despite this, there is still an institutionalized disposition against the portable rock art question- largely pushed by amateurs since Jacques Boucher de Perthes in the mid 19th century. Without any changes and given enough time, the mast of the archaeology discipline will grabbed away from it by those with more functional and open systems of knowledge generation.

The several hundred well intended and intelligent individuals who have contacted me over the years regarding visually significant objects found in concentrated areas have been treated by professional archaeologists as "misguided" or "cloud watchers" or "pareidoliacs" in every case. This kind of patrolling of ideas is seen in cults, not in academic disciplines. Archaeology may defer to the hard sciences when it is convenient but in no way yet adopts the Scientific Method for its own core functions and operations. 

"Some patterns and features in stone tools and art are easily detectable by laypersons but they are eschewed by most archaeologists because they are not already covered in the books and papers they have read. It is as if they know all there is to know and of course that is never the case." -Ken Johnston

Jacques Boucher de Perthes was eventually vindicated on the tools he noticed, later to be accepted as Acheulean handaxes, the most common human artifact in the world after the Mode I modified cobble. Soon enough, he will be vindicated too on the question of pierres-figures, or figure stones, existing right alongside the tools.

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