Denisovan Ancestry in East Eurasian and Native American Populations

30 January 2013

Ceramic feline figure from Dolni Věstonice calls into question British Museum claim of "the first portrait of a woman" and informs portable rock art finds in France and USA

The British Museum is promoting an exhibition of Ice Age art and released information which the Daily Mail and other news outlets have carried:

Face of the 26,000-year-old woman! FIRST EVER portrait of a woman was carved into a tusk of a woolly mammoth (and it's smaller than a thumb)
-New Ice Age art show will include the earliest yet found representation of a woman's face
-4.8cm tall carving is so detailed experts believe the subject may have suffered a stroke

In the prior posting I demonstrated how the features observed and described on this carving are not unique to it and are probably not an actual portrait of a real woman as the British Museum claims. It is probably not related to the disfigured woman triple burial found at the Dolni Věstonice site, seen in photo below.

General view of the 3 person burial, disfigured woman in center. 
Photo source: Display, Dolní Věstonice Museum

This ceramic feline head from the Dolni Věstonice site (photo by Don Hitchcock) also exhibits differences in the expression of the eyes, matching the ivory carving of the human head and face which also shows the known portable rock art motif of "one eye open, one eye closed or missing." It is almost always the left eye.

This ceramic artifact, from the same site, calls into question the British Museum's claim of having identified the first known portrait based on its "absolutely individual characteristics." The facial characteristics the British Museum described as "a dodgy eye" are not unique to the ivory carving in any way, and are not even unique to the site which produced the artifact they plan to display as "a real woman's portrait."  My personal opinion is that this claim should be publicly corrected and withdrawn. Or, might the British Museum suggest this lion may have suffered a stroke?

Zoomorphic pottery figurine. Possibly a feline. Photos: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Display, Dolní Věstonice Museum
Thanks to Don Hitchcock of Don's Maps for permission to display his photos here

Compare these two suspected rock feline heads to the two ceramic feline images directly above them, respectively. To my eye, they compare favorably as "visages" of the feline form seen in ceramics. The one on the left is documented by portable rock art investigator Denis Argaut, France. The flint and crystal feline head at right was found by an anonymous rock collector at Flint Ridge, in Ohio, USA. It is thought to be a representation of the American Lion as seen in an earlier post.

Ceramics may be used to inform other finds- from ivory artifacts to suspected portable rock art pieces.


25 January 2013

The British Museum, unaware of portable rock art motif already well-described, makes a likely misinterpretation of "a portrait" based on mistaken "absolutely individual characteristics"

Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian, Jan. 24, 2013

"It's smaller than your thumb: a little piece of mammoth ivory delicately carved into the shape of a woman's head. But this miniature sculpture, with one wonky eye and rather elongated, slightly Modigliani-esque proportions, is the oldest known portrait in the world, and is about to go on show to the public for the first time in Britain in a new exhibition at the British Museum, Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind.

Some 26,000 years ago, in a valley teeming with game in what is now Moravia, a man or woman carved this little head with skill and not a little persistence, using stone tools to smooth away the recalcitrant, hard ivory.

According to the British Museum's curator Jill Cook, "The reason we say it is a portrait is because she has absolutely individual characteristics. She has one beautifully engraved eye; on the other, the lid comes over and there's just a slit. Perhaps she had a stroke, or a palsy, or was injured in some way. In any case, she had a dodgy eye. And she has a little dimple in her chin: this is an image of a real, living woman."

With all due respect, the museum is mistaken because they describe here an example of a trans-Atlantic Middle Paleolithic start motif, known to astute figure stone investigators in Europe and America as "one eye open, one eye closed or missing."

As an aside, Karon Schwab, an amateur archaeologist from Idyllwild, California, contacted me a while back. She had found so many one eye open, one eye closed, figures she had concluded the prehistoric peoples who lived in her locale had a genetic condition creating the disfigurement. Dozens of other amateurs have made similar observations, all to be ignored by mainstream archaeology orthodoxy.

The "dodgy eye" statement will cause a chuckle for all familiar with this motif, with many examples seen on this blog (search "one eye") and described by others, including James Harrod, Ph. D., at The eye may be more than dodgy, it may be symbolic and embedded with cultural meaning.

Dr. Harrod writes (pers. comm.) 'One day I had the opportunity to hand the 'one eye' sculpture, that Ursel Benekendorff sent me, to the late Roy Scheider, a skilled actor in TV, movies and Shakespearean stage. I said nothing other than: "what do you feel this stone is saying". He said (paraphrase) that it felt like the tragic vision of King Lear, one eye open is witness to all human doings and human suffering, one eye is closed in pain and and anguish over the human condition; also one eye looks inward, one outward. Also as the head is like that of a child, it also speaks of maintaining spiritual innocence facing the human predicament. I am reminded of the proverb of Jesus: 'Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves.'"

This culturally mediated carved ivory item is an example of a meme which was repeated for thousands of years. So many more examples survive in stone. Have all the wooden ones perished?

To make an extraordinary archaeological claim of "the oldest known portrait of a woman," hopefully not to sell more exhibition tickets, the museum sees it upon itself to determine, "absolutely" no less, the features on the figure represent a unique individual. I have read at one time an account that said this carving was found in proximity to the skeletal remains of a woman with a matching facial disfigurement. If this was correct, it is much more likely the woman "matched" the art motif, maybe as a kind of living embodiment, than the art was created as a portrait of the woman.

Museum curators and archaeologists who claim special knowledge and who are not aware of the most common observations among amateurs in their field jeopardize their own credibility and risk misinforming the public.

Licking County, Ohio, worked (confirmed by a petrologist) basalt one-eyed figure stone investigated by Alan Day at left, artist's rendering of the "dodgy eyed" woman of Dolni Věstonice (Czech Republic) and at right a figure stone from archaeologist Hans Grams' collection, artifact from Wegberg, German Rhineland.

Photo courtesy of Hans Grams


22 January 2013

Oregon burin flakes join flock of beaked bird flints from Arizona and Ohio

A flake from the Dennis Boggs collection at Irrigon, Oregon, has a familiar bird form where the beak may have had a tool purpose as a burin or graver

Oregon artifact at left, an Ohio artifact at right. The Ohio bird form was compared to an Arizona bird figure with a pigmented eye, 3 postings ago.

A human face has been worked on micro scale. Face is 2cm tall in the frame of this photo. It may be seen on the middle of the left edge of the artifact in the photos above this one.  Identified by Ken Johnston in the Dennis Boggs collection from Irrigon, Oregon.

Cortex side of the Oregon bird at left.  The Ohio bird like form at right was found in the context of other flint bird figures.

The bird form is combined with an egg shape which also presents the outline of a (pregnant?) female implied by a face on the belly. 

Side 2, cortex side of artifact has human facial imagery as seen highlighted in the photo markup. (The mouth is in red color.)

Another Oregon example in the same rock material which has a heavy duty bit resembling a bird's head with beak, which can be leveraged for maximum force against a material to be worked. This supports the possibility the Artifact 1 burin flake was also a tool/bird figure object in the Columbia River Stone Age.

Side 2 of the beaked bird head is also an approximate bird form

The two bird form Oregon artifacts here are made on the same type of rock material

This possible image of a plump woman's laughing face at left was extracted from the top middle of the artifact as seen in the photo above these two. The skull or bearded man image at right was extracted from the center of the woman's face image at left. The man and woman are sharing the same eyes. (Tilting your head to the left may help orient the images.)

A quasi-anthropomorphic face image is worked onto the posterior of the bird's head


16 January 2013

A floating water bird sculpture and American Levallois lithic reduction technology described by Indiana amateur archaeologist Rick Doninger

A floating water bird sculpture and American Levallois lithic reduction technology described by Indiana amateur archaeologist Rick Doninger

Crystal formations in the stone cover the back of the swan

Classic Levallois tools typically associated with the European Mousterian tradition have been identified in large numbers by Rick Doninger in south west Indiana, USA.

The rhomboid shaped heavy duty borer/burin seen on the left in this photo has been associated with portable rock art by several amateur archaeologists and has already been described on this blog. Please add Rick Doninger's example here to the list.


11 January 2013

"Two Faces Have I" - shared elements may be symbolic of connectedness

American Charles Hannan, living in Belgium, found this suspected manuport in his backyard in the sandy Kempen area in a late mesolithic/early neolithic tool context affirmed by Dutch archaeologist L. Jimmy Groen.

I think it is possible at least the mouth was worked because I have seen others similar to this one.

The middle of the pebble indents could be interpreted as a nose on a face, or as a shared eye of two faces without a nose as illustrated above. Shared facial elements are a known aspect of iconography in portable rock art identified by archaeologists in America and Europe.

Quasi-anthropomorphic faces share elements on this modified cobble 
Jan van Es find, The Netherlands

Jan van Es writes (personal communication) "The double function of the eye sculptures is what I regularly see (shared eye, shared mouth). It could have the meaning of 2 persons belonging to each other like mother and child, man and woman and sometimes human and animal. It is already present in the Heidelbergian culture."


08 January 2013

Jan van Es describes horse head and human facial profile imagery on Oregon mammoth lithophane, affirming Ohio and France sculpture interpretations

Photo illustration by Jan van Es of horse head image nested in the mammoth form along with human facial profile on the right edge (click photo to expand and compare)

Archaeologist Jan van Es of the Netherlands discovered the type site at Boukoul and defined the “Boukoulian” micro industry (most under 2cm) of tools and art. I consider him a mentor and he has been very generous with his time and knowledge with me over the past couple of years. I had detected a mammoth icon on each side of the piece and a vague human face profile on one edge which I was not confident enough to mention in the prior posting. Jan took a look at my photos and detected a horse head image nested in the mammoth form. He also described the human face profile on the posterior edge of the mammoth. He has illustrated these forms with markups on the photo above, left.

This is significant to me because I have already described a human face profile on the posterior an Ohio mammoth form (and other animals and birds) which was found in an art and tool context.

Also, I just recently described a mammoth form “framing” a rocking horse head sculpture (with galloping horse soundtrack) which has been masterfully interpreted and documented on YouTube by portable rock investigator Dennis Argaut of France. So mammoth combined with human head and or horse may be a describable pattern in portable rock art in Europe and America.

This kind of art is “almost invisible” (Alan Day, Ohio) to our minds today, even when looking for it. I was encouraged by a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art where I saw examples of art in the most minute forms, with focus and execution of detail on wonderful micro scales.  It helps me to understand a possible human desire to recognize, or rectify, imagery on something as difficult for us to detect as a small, seemly meaningless, stone flake.


05 January 2013

Oregon translucent pebble has been flaked to exploit a crystal inclusion and presents worked mammoth icons when held by manufactured pads for one's thumb and index finger

Find and interpretation by Ken Johnston from the Dennis Boggs collection of anomalous worked stones from the Columbia River valley, at Irrigon, Oregon. It is a "lithophane," a rock carving with translucent properties.

A possible mammoth (in profile facing left) icon may be seen, resulting from focused stone removal on this small translucent flake. A "base" or pad for the thumb has been created, along with a divot for the index finger. When held comfortably in this way, the mammoth figure is seen in optimal viewing perspective.

Stonework around the crystal inclusion, in order to feature it and open visual access to it. The crystals sparkle in the light. A second mammoth icon may be seen on this side of the artifact in profile, facing right.

Translucence in the daytime sun. The "bump" of the mammoth's head is a form recognized as a sign or indicator of an artist's attempt to portray this animal. Here, it was recognized as a component of a core rock, this flake including it was removed, and then it was incised and retouched to disambiguate the natural features enough to capture the necessary essence of the mammoth.