Sermons in Stones

“And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing. I would not have it any other way." Duke Senior in William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599.

My objectives for the Archaeology of Portable Rock Art blog

To document, interpret and present anomalous portable rock objects, from amateur-identified cultural sites, which are suspected of having been modified or curated as "art" by prehistoric people in order that archaeologists may identify similar potential art objects in situ and document this phenomenon- a heretofore neglected component of the 'official human record'- more systemically. Interpretation means describing and comparing forms, shapes, icons, common patterns, subtle relationships, etc. and my rare attempts at specific meanings are speculative and likely futile.

To provide a comprehensive online resource center of photos and writing about portable rock art from laypersons, amateur archaeologists, scholars and researchers around the world.

To promote healthy discussion and debate regarding issues of verification of artifactuality and intended iconography in portable rock art.

To challenge the “pareidolia accusation” as a valid de rigueur argument against possible intended imagery incorporated into portable rock art and help bring this part of the archaeological record to the higher level of scientific inquiry and scrutiny it deserves.

To explore relationships between portable rock art modalities and human evolution, population dispersals, cognitive capabilities and life ways.

Ken Johnston, avocational archaeologist (publisher)

My opinion: There is no dearth of U.S.A. Paleolithic art

It is claimed there is little evidence of Paleolithic art (palaeoart) in the U.S.A.  Of some 600,000 artifacts, several pieces of pre to post-Clovis tradition art have been found at the Gault site, Texas, and some more recently at the nearby Debra L. Friedkin site.  These and the Old Vero Beach, Florida, mammoth engraving on a megafauna bone should alert us to the possibilities for palaeoart in the United States. However, they are just a small taste of what is really out there to be found.

There is a vast period from about 30,000 years before present (Holen & Holen, Denver Museum of Nature Science) to the Archaic period 20,000+ years later with the emergence of "peck, grind and polish" stone art modalities where there has not yet been a systemic accounting of prehistoric art in the U.S.A. The Ohio History Connection museum at Columbus displays one Clovis spear point as its palaeoart, despite the Clovis tradition being relatively short-lived at about 500 years and with thousands of years of more subtle art not yet understood by mainstream archaeology. So far, it has been bypassed, or forsaken, in a great tragedy. It screams “Artifact!” when most palaeoart only whispers. What about all the art that is not sharp and pointy, considered their art because we find beauty in it?

There are likely millions of pieces of figurative portable rock art in the U.S. and amateurs, collectors and laypersons are identifying them. The internet is allowing hyper-communication among these people as opposed to the snail's pace of a dogmatic academic community of archaeologists. Art motifs are emerging, recurring anthropomorphic "characters" are being detected, common animals and forms are depicted and what could become full art taxonomies are coming to light.

It is not that the stone palaeoart does not exist, it is that we have not known what to look for. And what we should look for does not necessarily comport with preconceived conventional ideas about what art from the Pleistocene to the Archaic in North America should look like. Because of its typical incorporation of rough or natural stone features it is even more difficult to detect in the field.

Portable rock art is being found from coast-to-coast in the U.S.A. and shares many attributes with known palaeoart from Eurasia. The Beringia land bridge was open for 200,000 of the past 500,000 years. Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Denisovans, Neanderthals and other archaic ancestors of contemporary humans in Asia at the time certainly could have crossed it in to North America. Robert Bednarik has shown humans were seafaring in South East Asia at 840,000 years ago.

The portable rock art being identified here says North America was a part of a larger connected world in times long ago, not some uniquely virgin land that was "discovered first" by any “culture” we will ever know.  North American portable rock palaeoart tells us we would do better to approach our archaeology in this world-wide context, rather than as an island which evaded humans until the last 1/200th of our human existence. Bipedalism and large brains are not to be underestimated!

By setting aside our cultural biases and conventional expectations of what prehistoric portable rock art should be like, we become better prepared to see into a broader spectrum of creative expression which was recorded in the permanence of stone.
The "Clovis First" dogma perpetuated by United States archaeology officialdom set back knowledge of world population dispersals and prehistoric peoples here by several decades. Let's not have the "figurative portable rock art does not exist" dogma set us back any further. The stones have far too much to tell us about our heritage and our future.

Kenneth B. Johnston
Archaeology of Portable Rock Art

It is long past time for Archaeology to recognize the significant amounts of cultural information which may have been recorded in stone materials in the most subtle and sophisticated ways by our early ancestors.


Here is part of a note I received from someone with very similar experience to mine. This helps explain the purpose of this blog:

July 1, 2016

"....For me, personally, it has never made any sense at all that NA would have no humanoids until 14-15kya & just slightly older for SA.  For one example, "we" have known since early or mid 20th century that species of NA proboscids are genetically related to African proboscids & current wisdom is, e.g. "...From Africa, the mammoths migrated throughout Eurasia and North America. Their evolution continued over millions of years, eventually producing the woolly mammoth...."  []     So. They are going to tell us that the elephants were smart enough or needy enough [re whatever climate conditions] to "migrate" the entire globe but the humanoids were not???

Even before THAT consideration, I think "migrate" is possibly the wrong explanation of why elephants were on several continents. (Archaeologists could probably do a better job inventing the declarative "knowledge" for their field if they had a more liberal arts education. Their learning is too narrow & subseqently their thought processes are incestuous!) Until very recently [in geologic time scale] all the continental land masses on Earth were joined. It's not a coincidence that similar plants & animals occur on continents now separated by oceans. Continental chunks of land moved and are still moving, and with them goes all the extant biota... species of which continue to evolve on separated continental masses, & the separated species' evolutions will diverge with changing environments, absolute location on the globe, etc etc.

"Lucy" & her fellow Australopithecines were in existence, what 2mya? (re fossil evidence that's been FOUND, but proto-hominids occurred much earlier) I think what makes more sense is that proto-humans ended up on several continents, just like all the other living things and slightly diff forms of humans evolved separately & eventually migrations went both ways. Or, maybe humans originally evolved just in Africa & So America, & SA ppl went from S to N, but not the other way around as most archeo theory goes.

Re our artifacts, I think SOME archaeologists MUST know about these & know they're real, but don't want to rock the boat. Besides peer pressure among archaeolgists to leave it alone, these things are a nightmare to clean & restore, they don't photograph well because they are meant to be hand-held and turned around to reaveal the many images just one little rock contains, & they'd be very difficult to display because museum pieces are static. Arch. get their funding for digs from museums & arts/humanities orgs, who expect to display "museum quality artifacts" at the end of the time & $$. The artifacts are expected to fit into their narrow little paradigm of what ancient art looked like.

Many of our non-standard artifacts are every bit as beautiful & art-worthy as anything I've seen. I mean THIS is where ART BEGAN!!!  The ppl who made them are REALLY REALLY ancient. What do the archeo's & museums expect....that humanoids should invent art & emerge painting a Sistine Chapel just right out of the box??? I have taught art for many yrs. & it's important to be able to "see" the developing beauty in childrens' early work. No, it's NOT a Matisse, but it's still beautiful.

I don't know who these ppl were, who made these artifacts, but one thing I do know about them is they are not the ancestors of the ppl we call Native Americans. Wrong race. My artifacts show both white and black ppl. Some of them look like Neanderthal & in some horizons, they look like Lucy. "Our" ppl. record the arrivals of mongoloid ppl & I've found more than one "map" of the northern land bridge. (in CA.) The art is also dissimilar to Native American aesthetic; icons/ symbols are also diff.

I've spent hours reading primary resource materials re initial contacts between Euro's & Amerind ppl. At that time, tribes in CA told Euro ethnographers that there were other ppl here when their ancestors arrived. When asked what happened to those ppl, answers were always coy or evasive. Some CA Indians that were called Digger Indians were interviewed by a federal agent on a Congressional fact-finding mission. The agent had seen many of the little stone artifacts, which at the time they were calling them "charm stones". He asked Digger Indians about those & Diggers said they didn't make them, but they use them. When agent asked Diggers what happened to the ppl who made them, the answer was evasive. More about that another time.

In CA. I found artifacts on stone, wood [only partially lithified] & shell. In SD, I'd found stone & shell & only 2 days ago found the first wood-in-process-of-turning-to-stone artifact. Have you found any wood or shell artifacts in your stomping grounds?

My biggest challenge [besides storage] is that I haven't yet learned how to take good fotos of my finds. The details always get washed out.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this, but I promised you some fotos re your blue stones. Please see attached. You have a blue bird!! You also, of course have the man's head. They recycled & reworked stones sometimes, but they also made images on all faces of the stones, even when they planned to adhere something on top of it. Interesting factoid...the Olmec ppl in Central America also did that. More about the connection another time.

Oh, & BTW, archaeology is not the only discipline where the knowledge base is horribly messed up. When I failed to find any help among the archaeo's I then turned to the "rock-meisters"...geology. They weren't able to help with my artifacts but AT LEAST they admitted they didn't know anything about artifacts or fossils or really even about the "little loose rocks & stones", unlike the archeo's who arrogantly dismiss any potential valilidity of any part of my thought process.

The geology chair @ SJSU was good enough to spend hours with me whenever I dragged an 85lb. bucket of "rocks" into his office, sweating like a buffalo... He encouraged me to join the Bay AreaEarth Science Institute, which I did & for  ~5 yrs participated in mass qty's of workshops, field trips...subsequently won [competitive-science essay writing]  a paid fellowship at Stanford U in Earth Sci Ed dept. None of it helped me re artifacts, but I did learn a lot about rocks.

I also learned that the geo knowledge database is horribly messed up, maybe for similar reasons. University geologists [like university archeologists] are under heavy pressure from admin to publish continuously new material. Geo research & interpretations heavily rely upon/reference past researches & there were of course mistakes so mistakes are built upon mistakes, etc etc You know the deal with that. They never go back and correct anything. No excuses for any of that now that we have the internet & instant translations of any language.

Rae Doe"

Words of caution which the field of Archaeology should take into special consideration for itself, from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel:
We forget the privilege it is to have lifelong security of employment at a spectacular university. And I don’t think we use it for its intended purpose. I think that faculty on average through the generations are becoming a bit careerist and staying inside our comfort zones. [But] If we’re perceived as being an ivory tower and talking to one another and being proud of our discoveries and our awards and our accomplishments and the letters after our name, I think in the long run the enterprise is going to suffer in society’s eyes, and our potential for impact will diminish. The willingness of society to support us will decrease.

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