30 December 2014

Petrified wood bird figures from the Big Dry Creek watershed at Westminster, Colorado

Identified as sculpted petrified wood bird figures by Chris Schram, Westminster, Colorado, in a context of other examples as featured on this blog and at Chris's site linked below.

From Big Dry Creek watershed, Westminster, Colorado, Chris Schram collection

Petrified palmwood bird figure, Chris Schram collection.  More photos from the Chris Schram collection, Denver, Colorado area

27 December 2014

Human face on a pebble with possible pigmentation from Virginia

Arkfeld site, Clear Brook, Virginia

Found in a strong context of portable rock art including other faces on pebbles. Adam Arkfeld states the yellow adhering matrix does not match the soils in the area. The yellow material is seen in the eyes, mouth and possible ear of this face. He suggests the material may have been a pigment which covered the stone at one time but has worn away except in the crevices. It is a candidate for testing for presence of yellow ocher which would suggest likely human work on the stone.

In his 2011 paper "Cultural cobbles or a load of old cobblers? The detection of iconography and identification of artefactuality in lithics" Richard J. Wilson writes:
The human visual system devotes specialised resources to face perception which are neurologically well determined (Helvenston and Hodgson 2010, 2006; Hodgson 2008a). As Hodgson and others elaborate, there is a deal of evidence that there is a biologically determined preference for perceiving the hominin face (Watson 2010, Helvenston and Hodgson 2010,2006). Likewise, Sinha et al (2006) note that the visual system of humans begins with a rudimentary preference for face-like patterns. Recognition of a face is thus usually associated from an early stage with an emotionally satisfying reward through maternal contact (Hodgson 2010). A reward system intertwined from birth with that of face recognition offers one theoretical motivation for collecting ‘face-like’ stones and rocks such as the Boucher de Perthes object presented earlier – regardless of whether or not they were enhanced further. A predilection for collecting stones which resemble ‘faces’ is comprehensible in the context of the “neurological value” elicited in a system designed to detect and respond to faces.

21 December 2014

Bison head and human head or skull combination from the Arkfeld site, Clear Brook, Virginia

Adam Arkfeld find, Clear Brook, Virginia, site #44FK731

Interpreted by Ken Johnston as a bison head and neck facing right combined with a human head on top which is facing skyward

An illustration of the human and bison forms in this sculpture. The channel above the bison eye is a symbolic horn line which may be continued upward a bit as seen in the illustration. The human face has two nostril divots which is seen in so many other portable rock art figures and may be considered as adding the "breath of life" to the stone object.

Rotating the bison neck and head image 90 degrees to the left orients a human head facing left on the left end of the stone. The top of the human's head is defined by the bison image horn crevice. 

Close up of the human head looking left which is incorporated into the bison head figuration. The right eye may be considered a more precise and detailed image of an eye while the left eye may be considered as being a large empty space or a "missing eye" in a known paleoart motif. This is an example of the "right eye open left eye missing" motif which has been described by others and demonstrated as many as 50 times on this blog.

18 December 2014

Third mammoth figure with human face mask between legs from the Arkfeld site

Mammoth right profile figure standing upright on a flat base. Find by Adam Arkfeld, Arkfeld site, #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia

Ken Johnston illustration of the interpreted mammoth figure and a crude human face mask between the mammoth's front and hind legs. The mammoth has an eye in correct anatomical position and work to define and separate a trunk feature from the rest of the body seen at the straight line in the illustration.

The human face mask is a bust in this case with two eye cavities, a mouth with upper and lower lips and a squared off chin. 

This is the third mammoth figure with a human face mask between legs from the Arkfeld site in a context of several dozen mammoth figures and many other portable rock pieces. Please see the posting just prior to this one and its included link to the first one from May 2014.

Incised eye creates another face mask

The artist incorporated a second larger face mask which shares the mouth of the smaller bust face mask. An open eye image has been incised into the stone and is highlighted in the illustration above. It created the right eye of the second human face figure while utilizing the mammoth eye as the left eye on the mask. Click on the photos to compare and toggle back and forth. Examine the two incised curved lines which meet on two ends to create a classic eye feature.

14 December 2014

Sculpture combines two known motifs, mammoth cresting human head and human image among mammoth's legs

Arkfeld site, Clear Brook, Virginia, site #44FK731, 12cm

This figure stone combines mammoth, or perhaps mastodon, imagery along with human face imagery. It achieves two already described motifs, the mammoth form cresting a human head and human imagery nested among a mammoth's legs or at its hind end.

Regarding another sculpture seen on this blog, figure stone investigator Jan van Es of Roermond, The Netherlands, writes "In many sculptures of animals (bear, elephant, bison, etc..) is a portrait by the legs visible. Here I see a man's face by the hind legs." The Arkfeld site has already produced another example of this motif featured on this blog in May 2014 where two human face masks are nested among a baby mammoth's legs on a figure stone. 

Ken Johnston interpretation of a mammoth head form on a rough mammoth body. The sculpture includes the image of a human face which is facing downward inside the box.

Rotation of the mammoth view by 90 degrees to the right presents the human face looking left, with the mammoth's head and trunk cresting the human's head. This motif has already been described on this blog as well.

Illustration of the interpreted eyes and mouth composing the human face image.

Close up of the human face in left 3/4 profile highlighted by the rectangle in the above illustration

13 December 2014

Beauty and the Beast

"Two standing human forms in an embrace" from Arkfeld site, Clear Brook, Virginia
Find and interpretation by Adam Arkfeld

This statuette has a scepter-like handle which has been been inserted into a wood base for this presentation. 

Because it was found in concentration with other human modified rocks which have unique visual properties as compared to the background stone material at the site, this object requires serious consideration as a sculpted art piece. It may depict two human forms in an embrace with the back of woman's head facing the viewer. The rounded aspect of the two heads as well as a groove which separates the heads require expert analysis to confirm human agency.  

The back of the woman's head may have a carved upside-down "V" shape to depict a long hairstyle. The male figure has facial detail elements, a left arm bent at the elbow and somewhat of a hunched back. It appears to be almost ape-like.

Adam Arkfeld observed the Virginia statuette is evocative of our contemporary "Beauty and the Beast" imagery

11 December 2014

At two centimeters, simple pecked face on a pebble is microart from the Arkfeld site, #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia

At two centimeters, simple pecked face on a pebble is microart from the Arkfeld site, #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia

Archaeologist Jan van Es of Roermond, The Netherlands, has described portable rock art under 2cm as "microart" and this pebble from Arkfeld qualifies as such. This piece could also be described as a portable petroglyph. 

The eyes are completed pecked circles in the 4 to 5mm size range. Freehand pecking of the very small circular forms does not seem possible so it seems more likely there was an intermediate tool like a stone punch that could have been more precisely directed with greater control of the result. When the punch was in the correct position it was struck with a stone hammer to remove that spot of the stone's surface.

10 December 2014

Engraved stone M3-10 from Blombos Cave, South Africa, dated at 100,000 years BP has a convergent lines motif comparable to element on Virginia engraved stone

Some of the engraved stones from Blombos Cave, South Africa, attributed to their recovery levels and dates

Artifact M3-10 has a fan motif (convergent lines) which is opening upward in this perspective

M3-10 illustration rotated 180 degrees for comparison to fan motif pictured below

Arkfeld site, #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia, element of engraved stone with faint remnants of a fan motif similar to the one from Blombos Cave, South Africa, dated to c. 100,000 years before present.

06 December 2014

Homo erectus engraved shell from Java is about half-a-million years old (Joordens et al., Nature, 2014)

Homo erectus engraved shell from Java is about half-a-million years old
(Photo : Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam)

From nature.com: A zigzag engraving on a shell from Indonesia is the oldest abstract marking ever found. But what is most surprising about the half-a-million-year-old doodle is its likely creator — the human ancestor Homo erectus.

Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving (Joordens et al., Nature, 2014)
Abstract:
The manufacture of geometric engravings is generally interpreted as indicative of modern cognition and behavior. Key questions in the debate on the origin of such behavior whether this innovation is restricted to Homo sapiens, and whether it has a uniquely African origin. Here we report on a fossil freshwater shell assemblage from the Hauptknochenschicht (‘main bone layer’) of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the type locality of Homo erectus discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891 (refs 2 and 3). In the Dubois collection (in the Naturalis museum, Leiden, The Netherlands) we found evidence for freshwater shellfish consumption by hominins, one unambiguous shell tool, and a shell with a geometric engraving. We dated sediment contained in the shells with 40Ar/39Ar and luminescence dating methods, obtaining a maximum age of 0.54 ± 0.10 million years and a minimum age of 0.43 ± 0.05 million years. This implies that the Trinil Hauptknochenschicht is younger than previously estimated. Together, our data indicate that the engraving was made by Homo erectus, and that it is considerably older than the oldest geometric engravings described so far. Although it is at present not possible to assess the function or meaning of the engraved shell, this discovery suggests that engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control.
The Bilzingsleben, Germany, engravings seem to be missing from the archaeological context described by Joordens et al. (2014) so more information on this is presented below.

THE GRAPHICS OF BILZINGSLEBEN: SOPHISTICATION AND SUBTLETY IN THE MIND OF HOMO ERECTUS, John Feliks
Abstract:
In 1988, Dietrich and Ursula Mania published images of unmistakably deliberate engravings on bone artifacts dated between 320,000-412,000 years BP, found near the village of Bilzingsleben in central Germany. Contrary to traditional notions of early peoples, Mania and Manias’ preliminary interpretations suggested that these markings implied the existence of advanced human traits, which included abstract thinking, language, and a “concept of the world.” In this presentation, I will demonstrate that the Bilzingsleben markings go well beyond these already stunning assertions, and document a very large number of graphic innovations and highly advanced intellectual traits in Homo erectus, innovations and traits that have long been regarded the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens. In fact, the artifacts contain so much information that, collectively, they constitute nothing less than a detailed and expansive map directly into the extraordinary mind of this early ancestor. I will demonstrate that the markings reflect graphic skills far more advanced than those of the average modern Homo sapiens. A new list of qualities, abilities, and innovations which must now be credited to Homo erectus, and which are directly indicated by the markings includes: abstract and numeric thinking; rhythmic thinking; ability to duplicate not only complex, but also, subtle motifs; iconic and abstract representation; exactly duplicated subtle angles; exactly duplicated measured lines; innovative artistic variation of motifs including compound construction, doubling, diminution, and augmentation; understanding of radial and fractal symmetries; impeccably referenced multiple adjacent angles; and absolute graphic precision by high standard and, practically, without error. Each of these will be demonstrated visually. Hence, the following advanced cognitive qualities may be quite easily assumed for the species Homo erectus by way of geometric analogy: interrelationship sensitivity and complex organizational skill; language; use of metaphor and hidden meaning; philosophy; mysticism or other “spiritual” perspectives; and a general ability to discern, appreciate, and create the most subtle nuance within any area of intellectual endeavor.
Joordens et al. 2014 also make the claim for the Java shell engraving being the oldest known abstract marking in the world which needs to be seen in the greater ancient art context described by James Harrod, Ph. D., at originsnet.org and with more information presented in the paper below.

Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence
Abstract:
Current archaeological evidence supports the claim that symbolic behavior, including palaeoart, first emerged in human evolution around 1 million years ago. The purpose of this article is to review archaeological studies that might support the hypothesis that the earliest palaeoart actually is evident around 2 million years ago. This review identifies nine Oldowan artifacts that have been proposed as possible non-utilitarian and possibly symbolic behavior. Among seven stone tools, the three strongest candidates are the Olduvai Gorge, the FLK North grooved and pecked cobble, ~1.80 million years ago, and MNK Main subspheroid with hexagon shape framing an apparent natural dot-and-undulating-line motif, ~1.5–1.6 million years ago, both initially reported and described by Mary Leakey; and the curated Koobi Fora FxJj1 “broken core” with inner rhomboid shape, ~1.87 million years ago. All six stone tools from Olduvai Gorge need scientific re-examination to determine their chaîne opératoire and assess non-utilitarian features. If even one of the Olduvai Gorge artifacts were validated as symbolic behavior this would indicate the emergence of palaeoart one million years earlier than current proposals. It would also suggest that Homo habilis/rudolfensis or a very early Homo erectus had substantially more advanced cognitive, design and symbolic competencies than inferred in current theories. It would constitute a challenge to develop more advanced cognitive semiotic and art-theoretic analytical tools for illuminating the role of such palaeoart in hominin cultural evolution.
This famous piece of red ocher from Blombos Cave, South Africa, dated to about 100,000 BP has a somewhat similar engraved pattern to the one on the shell from Java despite being separated by 400,000 years of supposed cognitive evolution. It seems more likely the capacity for symbol and art behavior dates to the origins of the genus Homo or even earlier as Feliks and Harrod have each postulated. 

03 December 2014

Flying duck, wolf and rabbit figures combined in a polymorphic limestone sculpture from The Old Route 66 Zoo site

Flying duck with head at left and split tail feathers at right
Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber find, The Old Route 66 Zoo site, #23JP1222 near Joplin, Missouri 

Wolf bust view interpretation by Stacy Dodd, looking right, where the split tail feathers of the duck figure become the ears on the wolf figure. The wolf has been given a manufactured eye cavity in the stone in correct anatomical position which helps confirm the artifact status of this piece. The rather squared off shape of the animal's muzzle here could possibly reflect a representation of the now extinct dire wolf.

Standing rabbit figure in left 3/4 profile view

The simultaneous artistic realization of three, and perhaps more, animal figures in one sculpture places this art at a very high level of sophistication well beyond simple representation. The combination of these three animals here may have had some culturally determined or implied meaning, like elements of a kind of picture language.


The flying duck image at top becomes side 2 of the rabbit figure when rotated 90 degrees right. The rabbit is in right profile in this perspective. The rabbit and the duck share the same eye element on the stone.

The duck and rabbit combination sculpture is seen in several examples on this blog. This is the first time a canine has been seen in the mix.