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Subjectivity in Stone Age art works such as figure stones, engravings, sculptures, effigies and curated manuports. See how images and icons have been realized in portable rock media since the dawn of humanity. Here, archaeologists and art historians are becoming aware of these forsaken artifacts. “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." -in W. Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599.

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    A sleeping duck pebble carving
    Bob Doyle find, Maine

    Mr. Doyle is a naturalist, amateur archaeologist and master flintknapper from the Portland, Maine area. Bob has replicated the prehistoric creation of figure stones in both flint and coarse stone materials. He identified this pebble as a worked artifact, with very subtle removal of stone material to affect the final form of a sleeping duck, or waterbird. The overall shape is similar to a modern duck decoy. The head is at right, with a carved eye cavity. The duck's head is resting on its back, turned toward its rear, with its bill pointing left. The "sleeping duck" is a relatively common prehistoric portable rock art motif seen in Europe and America.

    An example of the natural form which inspired the "sleeping duck" portable rock art motif

    -kbj

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    A naturally perforated human head effigy on a flaked artifact found near a horse head figure and other figurative portable rock art and tools at a Flint Ridge quarry location, Licking County, Ohio. Finds and interpretations by Ken Johnston.

    Human head and horse head facing left (with scale)

    Left profile of human head retouched on a flake

    Compare this human head left profile found 5 miles away to the general form of the Flint Ridge effigy's left profile seen above it. These may be similar iconic representations, with a somewhat recessive chin and mid-facial prominence, maybe even a head of hair. They may represent the same idealized human form, or they may represent a convention in human representation in their morphological similarity.

    Human head flint effigy right profile view

    A crystal lined natural perforation in the eye area of the figure may be used to hang the effigy and it defaults to a suitable viewing orientation. Perhaps this perforation was recognized and utilized to suspend the effigy or attach it to a cord. The artifact is lighted from behind as a lithophane in this photo which sets off its pink and clear crystal translucence. 

    Colorful flint human head left profile view hanging from a cord in the autumn evening sun.

    Close up of a flint horse head figure. In the bottom right is a depression worked into the stone which accommodates the thumb as if holding the piece like a horse head finger puppet.

    Horse head figure side 2

    -kbj

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    A Missouri sleeping duck figure stone from 23JP1222

    With eye and bill area highlighted for orientation to the image in top photo. The faint remnants of a possible pigmented image may be seen at left of the bill marking, in the tail area of the duck.

    -kbj

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    Sleeping duck figure stone, Bob Doyle find and photo

    Bob typically recovers artifacts from deteriorating undocumented archaeology sites in coastal Maine.

    "hi ken and all...
    here is another...made from quartz. a beautiful carving, delicately created. it is under 25 mm across.
    i have recovered several more of these ducks. one that is almost life sized.
    all the best...bob"

    Thanks Bob!

    Nadia Clark of Prescott, Arizona, has also identified a sleeping duck figure stone from an art and tool context and has posted the image to her blog here.

    -kbj

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    Find and photo by Jimmy Groen, The Netherlands, courtesy of Jimmy from his blog ARbannig

    Groen writes, "The image above is representing a piece of local Hesbaye flint, found at the nearly the highest part of the hill named "Montagne St. Pierre" part of the community of Visé in Belgium.( location Lat.. 50.78192708669826 x Long 5.675597190856934) Visé Lanaye in Google Maps

    This area, rich in flint, is known for large tool production zones from the prehistory, for the production of tools from the locally mined flint, so in the area  pieces of flint can be found easily. The local flint type is a rather coarse flint, probably mined at the location named Heyoule, this conclusion is based on the fact , the flint was found in the loess layer, so it has been transported at this field. Characteristics for this flint type are: very weak expressed bulbs ( because of the granulate structure) no rings of percussion and a dull appearance, if not patinated. During the production of tools, flint was mined from the cretaceous slopes of the Meuse river, for the production of tools. A raw flint core,  after eventual decortification, was prepared with a platform, to strike regular blades or flakes from , to get  blanks for the production of a large diversity of tools ( scrapers, knives, drills, etc.).

    The flint piece, found in the field, has such a platform type, but the platform ( bottom side of the flint object in the picture below) was not used for the production of blades, maybe some flakes were taken of the nodule.  The flint piece is  remarkable and does not at all look like the usual, traditional ( often pyramidal) cores that were left over after blade- or flake debitage and sometimes still are found in the fields. Moreover, this not a debitage core, but  looks rather like some sort of  flint sculpture, maybe representing someone with a quiver with arrows...

    This is reinforced by the fact some parts of the stone show a secondary retouch at some edges ( at top parts of the image), but this cannot be functionally. Step- fractions occur, maybe these are placed deliberately for sculpting the stone.

    The assumed period for the production of tools from local flint in this part of  Mt. St Pierre is the Middle to Late- Neolithic, appr. between 4000 and 2600 BC.

    Technical details:
    Length = 7,6 cm
    Wide = 7,8 cm
    Depth = 2,8 cm

    Preliminary conclusion:
    A remarkable flint piece was found, with traces of limited debitage of flakes. Besides of this, the secondary retouch at two edges, would plea for the anthropogenic origin of the flint piece. This secondary retouch is not made for a functional purpose.The flint piece cannot be used as a tool ( like a tool core). It is quite well possible this is a piece of rock art (Figure stone, Pierre figures) or might have served as some sort of special object. The round form at the left could be the head of someone, and the triangle shape a quiver with arrows. This would make it a small statue of a torso."

    -L. Jimmy Groen, Maastricht, NL

    Ken Johnston illustration of possible image of a man's torso with a quiver pack on his back (Groen). On first impression of this object, I saw a rabbit head facing right. The Groen and Johnston interpretations of possible imagery may both be "valid" in the sense that art objects can have a greater meaning composed of parts of combined forms. For example, this figure may signify "a man rabbit hunting."








    Now, one may use the Groen and Johnston interpretations to make another interpretation which is derived from a synthesis of the first two. Perhaps alternatively, the quiver interpreted by Groen may also be seen as a rabbit figure facing left on the back of the man. It may depict pre-hunt and post-hunt imagery, or two points in time, in one figure. (click photos to expand and compare).

    -kbj


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    Ken Johnston bird figure/chopper tool find, Licking County, Ohio
    (click photo to expand)

    A fine example of the "Topper chopper" bird motif described by figure stone investigator Alan Day, with bird's beak at far right. A human-like facial profile may be seen looking left from the bird's tail feathers at far left. Made from Vanport chert material from Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio, and found about 50 miles from the Day's Knob site, 33GU218.

    Alan Day's illustration of weather worn carvings on the chopper/bird form he identified and photographed at the famous Topper site, North Carolina. Day has documented similar finds at Day's Knob, Guernsey County, Ohio, and from the Charles Belart collection of France. 


    Side two also has a bird-like form. The artifact seems to have been made using Levallois type reduction technology. The prepared striking platform to remove this large flake is seen at the lower right edge in the lighter and grey colored flint.

    There appears to be light use-wear between the peak of the quasi-human head profile on the left and the peak of the bird's profile head at right. So, this was likely a scraper or light chopper with deliberate iconic properties. This may hint at a ceremonial use of these bird form choppers and scrapers.

    My own far-flung speculation based on rock art motifs is that these iconic tools were used in mortuary practice to deflesh the dead and prepare them for "consumption" by scavenger birds, who were thought to guide or facilitate a "rebirth process," by releasing or bringing back to life the deceased's spirit, and seen as human-like faces and skull forms on certain bird figure stones.

    Bird with translucent crystal beak

    In this orientation, a natural crystal lined hole in the flint may be taken as another bird's eye and the translucent white crystal area at far right may be taken as the bird's beak pointing down. At left, simple tail feathering is expressed in two colors in the flint work.

    -kbj

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    Ken Johnston find, Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio

    Tools found near the Flint Ridge bird figure/chopper featured in the prior posting of 17 October include this Levallois-style reduction finger held cutter/perforator/borer.

    The crystals appear between the index and middle fingers pointing skyward while the tools is used as designed. It may be thought of as a decorated tool, a finger axe with some "bling," which was likely recognized and appreciated by the maker in prehistory. 

    The tool stands upright on its own "base" in this orientation, like one might expect from a sculpture.

    Side two view.


    Another less ostentatious Levallois style flake tool designed to be held in the fingers found nearby.


    Illustrations of the designed thumb pads on these artifacts to facilitate one's grip.


    These artifacts appear to be made using Levallois preferential unidirectional-convergent core preparation.

    Pictured with a smaller, undecorated, Levallois-style tool found nearby (at right).

    -kbj

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     Five flint artifacts with distinct bird forms, Licking County, Ohio

    Side 1

    Side 2


    Side 1 and 2 of standing flake with translucent aspect

    Side 1 standing upright and side 2 from above

     Side 1 and 2 of standing bird head figure

    Side 1 and 2 of beaked bird head figure
     (click photos to expand)


    -kbj

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    Mike Youtz find, Topaz Mountain, Utah

    At the Skull-a-day.com web site, Mike Youtz writes

    "Found this interesting Rhyolite rock while in Utah back in May 2011. We were wrapping up a two-week geology field class when we decided to visit Topaz Mountain in western Utah to do a little gem hunting. Instead I found this! Way cooler than a topaz in my opinion. At first glance I thought it was the petrified skull of some critter but nope, it’s just a volcanic rock. Enjoy!"

    Any suspected portable rock art find outside of an archaeological context has a diminished value to our understanding of what transpired in the past. The find by Mike here is a good example of an object which is at least a mimetolith which could have been recognized and appreciated in prehistory, and possibly an artifact if it was altered in any way by the human hand.

    Finds like this can be used to identify possible archaeological sites of significance where tools and other art objects might be found. An object with strong visual properties such as this should trigger an evaluation by archaeological science of the object itself and the context from where it came.

    In my experience however, professional archaeologists would immediately make the same assessment as the gem hunter here did, and dismiss this jawless stone skull form as wholly a product of chaos, having no potential significance to a greater understanding of our human past. Sadly, these are opportunities lost for development of archaeological knowledge. Anomalies such as this skull deserve careful evaluation, not immediate dismissal. Only when archaeologists develop more specialized knowledge than the general public do they have any credibility in matters of portable rock art.

    Some reasons why this object is a candidate for archaeological investigation:

    1) a rounded aspect to the top of the skull which may be shaped by controlled flake removal
    2) a larger left eye socket is in accordance with the known "one eye open, one eye closed/or missing" portable rock art motif seen in the Middle Paleolithic and seen in other American portable rock art objects of unknown age
    3) possible flake removal under the left eye to shape the cheek
    4) a symmetrical aspect to the stone which is aesthetically appealing

    -kbj

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  • 10/25/12--12:18: A bird in the hand
  • A bird in the hand

    From Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio. Flint with this kind of coloration is like a canvas for the prehistoric artist and the rock material which includes crystals seems to have been highly valued. This artifact has bird-like visual properties and has a blade with suspected use-wear.  It is worth beholding as a beautiful example of the synthesis of art and tool.




    The crystal-throated bird is a fine piece of rock art. Maybe the crystals are symbolic of the bird's song.


    Side 2 with scale

    The crystal beak of the bird could have served the functional purpose of being a leading edge, a kind of ripper, preceding the excurvate knife blade or being used on its own if wanted.

    -kbj

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  • 11/01/12--09:05: Flint effigy discovered
  • Flint effigy discovered
    Human head looking left, find by Ken Johnston, Licking County, Ohio

    This artifact was found relatively close to a bird figure/tool with a similar knife incorporated into the crest of the bird's head (see prior posting, Oct. 25), much like the one incorporated into the human forehead here. This supports the idea that this is an intended human head icon with a tool element on the peak of its head.

    Knife and scraper tool elements are labeled here. The artifact is designed to fit the hand comfortably while the knife and scraper surfaces are being used. The rounding of the side of the face here is the bulb of force from the creation of the flake.
    Side 2 with scale

    Side 2

    Flint head effigy looking left. Under the nose, the chin and the throat area of the person is seen in the whiter crystal material.  

    -kbj

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    A stone owl figure from the SDM Site, Solon Township, Kent County, Michigan (sound!)
    Courtesy Dennis J. Moore


    This stone owl weighs 81 lbs. and is 18" tall. Peck parks represent spots on the owl's breast. It is similar to other stone owl forms identified in a context of portable rock art bird figures. Like my Buckeye Lake finds, the SDM Site which produced the owl is located in a geographic context of glacial kettle lakes.

    Dennis' father, Edward R. Moore, is the first (1977) person to have described the "one eye open/one eye closed/missing" portable rock art motif in North America, based on his findings at the SDM site. He was unaware others such as Germany's Walther Matthes had described it in Europe in the late 1950's. Some of the SDM Site bird figures resemble those identified by Ursel Benekendorff of Germany.

    Side 2 of the owl

    Markings on some of the SDM site pieces are described by Mr. Moore as plow marks, but in the example above the marks are parallel and perpendicular incised lines, deliberate of the human hand, and may be a part of the art piece. Many good examples of chert and coarse stone birds are available at the SDM web site (sound!) and a Field Guide is for sale.

    -kbj

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    Human head looking left with glassy inclusion serving as mouth line

    This handaxe from Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio, incorporates a human head profile with chin prominence. The person seems to have a headdress of some kind. While studying this piece I noticed it could well depict an animal head on top of, and combined with, the human head.

    Illustration of carved circular animal eye, hypothetical location of human eye, and red line indicating stone inclusion incorporated as the mouth line of the face.

    A famous Ohio Hopewell tradition portable rock art piece known as the Wray Figurine was found 10 miles away from this flint in the mounds of the Newark, Ohio, earthworks, the largest geometric earthworks in the world and a nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Here is an illustration of what could be interpreted as an animal head and neck on top of the human head. (click photos to expand).

    The Wray figurine depicting a Hopewell shaman in the act of transforming into a bear.  Height of figurine, 16 centimeters.  Recovered from one of the principal burial mounds at the Newark Earthworks (Dragoo and Wray 1964).




    Side 2 with scale. The top edge shown here is the blade of a handaxe/chopper. The flint stands upright  with the facial profile looking downward.


    -kbj

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    A zooanthropomorphic sculpted figure identified by Mike Raver, from Zanesville, Ohio, in Muskingum County.

    Author and rock art investigator Pietro Gaietto of Italy presents this suspected sculpture on his web site. The Ohio example may support Gaietto's idea that this find was an intended figure.

    Mr. Gaietto writes on his web site:
    "FIG. 3 Zooantropomorphic lithic sculpture found by ISAIE DHARVENT in 1902 or previously.
    It is an old photography, in which cannot see the parts worked on the nodule of silex. Perhaps it is damaged from alluvial tumbling. The representation, in the interpretation of Dharvent, was the head of a monkey; my interpretation is different: the profile of the head has jaw and human forehead, while the mouth is of animal, therefore is an artistic hybrid.
    Measures: probably 6 cm. height.
    Origin: probably Center - North of France.
    Cultural attribution: probably middle Acheulean.
    In this photography the working traces are not looked at, do not look at the back; moreover the mouth is atypical, perhaps influenced from the shape of the nodule of silex, therefore, it is not possible to establish with certainty the authenticity."

    A link to Gaietto's book (in Italian language) is in the right screen panel "Anthromoporphic Paleolithic Sculpture"

     Side 2 of the Ohio human/animal sculpture found by Mike Raver

    An Oregon anthropomorphic form identified by Dennis Boggs, Irrigon, Oregon, and the subject of an earlier posting. It also compares favorably to a Gaietto described sculpture.

    -kbj

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    Laughing stone #4 on this blog

    Mike Raver find, Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio. Found in the context of tools and other portable rock art pieces, some of which have been published on this blog.  Mike's blog is here.



    Dennis Boggs finds, Irrigon, Oregon flanking Sherry's "Kermit the frog" rock in the middle. The rock on the left is a bobble-head which will rock as if laughing when set into motion by a slight push.

    Laughing stone, Zanesville, Ohio, has a mouth angle similar to the maximum angle which can be achieved by the human hand in "laughing hand puppet" position as seen in the photo below.






    The head of this anthropomorphic "stick figure" form in Brazil cave rock art resembles the outline of the shadow of the human hand puppet form. Perhaps this kind of hand puppet was used as a prop or medium in story telling which was recognized and collected when natural rocks with a similar form were discovered.

    -kbj

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    West Virginia rock panel relief carving may depict an action scene of a human fleeing a lion biting the neck of a bear
    Mike Ellis find and photo from near Charleston, West Virginia. Photo courtesy of Alan Day, the Day's Knob web site, where Alan presents some more of Mr. Ellis' finds, among figure stones from the Day's Knob site (#33GU218) and from 17 states with more to come.

    Ken Johnston interpretation and illustration of the rock art action scene. The lion's mouth is represented by the red line. The artist presents the human's left body profile, the lion's head right profile and the bear head viewed straight on from the front. (click photo to expand and toggle between clean photo and the illustration).

    -kbj

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    A bird form (and possible scraper tool), from Nadia Clark, Prescott, Arizona

    Side 2, sculpture standing upright on its own

    Nadia demonstrates how an edge suitable for scraping or chopping is presented when the bird sculpture is held optimally in the hand

    Heavy duty rhomboid burin/borers discovered by Nadia Clark in association with her portable rock art finds. These tool forms have been identified by several amateur archaeologists and will prove to be associated with early art and tool makers in the Americas. They do not seem to have been described by American archaeology but will be shown in the near future on this blog from several sites along with the art associated with the rhomboids. Similar rhomboid tools have been associated with the chopper/chopping tool tradition of Europe.

    Former cultural sites are exposed at the surface and Nadia has identified concentrations of likely iconic rock material

    Careful examination of rocks on the desert floor at Prescott, Arizona, reveals rhomboid tool forms and classic figure stones

    -kbj

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    Jimmy writes, "Yes, during a prospection near the Neolithic flint mines of Rijckholt, (a very important flint mine for the region), I found at the surface, this notched flake, a little bit "over-notched" perhaps... Maybe this was made on purpose to get a profile of a head?"

    -kbj

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    A typical configuration of a rhomboid borer/burin tool which seems yet undescribed by American archaeologists, though they behave like tool typologies are "known and closed."


    An Ohio example of a rhomboid tool found in association with portable rock art objects. Find and interpretation by Ken Johnston, on an unglaciated hilltop, Newark, Ohio.

    From my cursory search of sources available to amateur archaeologists, I could find no documentation of the existence of these stone rhomboids in North America. They exist in numbers and within definable measurement ranges so as to defy statistical likelihood of being products of natural chaotic forces in the assessment of reasonable, albeit amateur, rock art investigators.

    To be responsive to its public constituents, archaeological science must learn to accept anomalous finds and observations of amateurs as possible opportunities to expand knowledge.  The experience of many amateurs with professional and academic archaeologists is that the universe of their domain is "known" to all of its boundaries. All they seem to do is perpetuate static knowledge to the point of it becoming dogmatic, rather than providing a dynamic framework to advance new knowledge.

    The originsnet.org web site has excellent information from European sources which may inform these independent observations by 3 American amateur archaeologists, Nadia Clark, Prescott, Arizona, Ken Johnston, Newark, Ohio, and Ansted, West Virginia, and Mike Raver, Zanesville, Ohio.


    Illustration © Archaeologische Berichten. Wouters, A., Franssen, C. and Kessels, A. (1981). Typologie van de artefacten van de Chopper Choppingtool Complexen. Archaeologische Berichten 10:19-117. Elst, NL. Fig. 2.  From originsnet.org


    #1 Mike Raver rhomboids and bird, Zanesville, Ohio


    #2 Ken Johnston rhomboids and bird, Ansted, West Virginia



    #3 Nadia Clark rhomboids and bird, Prescott, Arizona


    #4 Ken Johnston rhomboids (with pentagons) and bird, Newark, Ohio

    Nadia Clark has suggested the rhomboids may not all be tools and they may have a spiritual significance to those who made them. I think this is an idea worth exploring. Our predecessors left them in concentrations which may be identified today and which may help identify early archaeological sites in The United States.

    -kbj

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    Flint human head effigy, from approximately 30,000 YBP, Aterian, north west African continent


    Diverse lot of Sahara desert relics includes: 35 Neolithic, 1 Mesolithic, and 1 Paleolithic tools.

    Paleolithic: An Aterian point is included in this collection, seen in the upper right. I believe this to be a hafted knife/scrapper rather than a projectile point. It is Ateria form with thick stem and rounded or abrupt tip which is worked around this way to be used for cutting or scrapping not as a tip for a projectile. This artifact dates to to approximately 30,000 years before present, at the time of the extinction of Neanderthal Man, but probably made by early Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

    Neolithic: The group of 36 Sahara Neolithic relics is composed of diverse types of relics, which were discovered on ancient habitation sites deep in the western Sahara desert, mostly in the vicinity of northern Muaratania/Mali but also includes  one two small basally notched Eiffel Tower points from Algeria. This group consist of several types  and subtypes of  projectile points from varying periods of the Neolithic era, including ovate, stemmed, triangular, and unifacial tool forms.  In all there are 23 Neolithic era stone projectile points and tools, 10 hard-stone beads (mostly quartz disc beads),  one hardstone celt, and a complete if a little rough cylindrical labret, this relic is thought to be used in body piercing or lips or ears.

    Mesolithic: There is one unifacial blade seen at the bottom left from Morocco, dates to approximately 8,000 years before present.

    -kbj

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