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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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    Find by Ken Johnston at a Flint Ridge quarry and workshop location, Licking County, Ohio. 8.5cm length.

    A black bird sculpture centered on a white bivalve shell fossil. The bird's beak is at far left, tail at far right. The fossil shell was probably identified on a larger stone and then it was reduced as the bird form was sculpted to feature the shell. Perhaps "doing justice" to the fossil meant giving it to a bird- and adding it to human depiction. Flint Ridge has produced many bird figures already seen on this blog. This is a classic simple bird profile sculpture.

    Image of the West Tofts, U.K,,  handaxe, ca. 100,000 BP, centered on a bivalve fossil

    This picture has been cut from the photo at top of the Licking County, Ohio, bird sculpture artifact. This open-mouthed face image with a blooming shell "hairdo" is particularly interesting given the comments of James Harrod, Ph.D., regarding the details of the West Tofts handaxe at the link above and its possible inclusion of human imagery.

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    Ken Johnston find, Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio. Interpreted as a left human facial profile.

    Moving viewing perspective to the left to see a "straight-on" view of the face. An interpreted tongue for this perspective has been highlighted in red. The eye circled at left in the photo above is composed of an excavation of stone to create a bas relief triangular eye in its socket.

    There are two ground nostril divots in the quartz crystals which I have circled in the photo above. The stone material does not allow addition of the nostrils in the representative position for a nose profile as illustrated in the drawing at left. With the nostrils skewed to the right of the nose profile image, they also work as the viewing perspective on the sculpture moves to the right. 

    This Vanport chert sculpture stands upright on a flat base in correct orientation to present this human facial profile. Eyes, nose, mouth, chin, forehead and ear embellished on a serendipitous natural form probably encountered in tool-stone procurement activities at Flint Ridge.

    Side 2 with scale

    Three perspectives on this sculpture. (Click photo to expand.) The highly angular nature of the chert material here requires a change of interpretive visual attention from our contemporary sensibilities. Rather than looking for accurate representation, we must use an almost "low resolution" focus to allow us to see the possible larger forms which may seen when the excruciating details of the rock are ignored. For me, this often requires taking one or several steps back from an artifact or a photo, and maybe squinting my eyelids a bit to appreciate the forest despite the trees (and branches and roots!)

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    Lion head figure stone. Ken Johnston find, Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio. 7.5 x 7.5cm.

    An illustration indicating the interpreted feline head and neck form. A large cluster of quartz crystals serves as the eye of the lion head figure.

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    Water bird figure facing left with tool bit protruding from back

    Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio.
    This is the reverse side with bird figure facing right now.

    These two artifacts were found together at Flint Ridge and I have interpreted them as bird figures whose backs were used as small lithic workbenches perhaps similarly to examples originally described by Jan van Es of Roermond, The Netherlands. 

    Both of these birds' backs is carrying a load of quartz crystals which have been worn down by grinding wear. One of the figures presents a cradling cup-like concave surface which has been smoothed from use and the other presents a convex quartz crystal formation with a protruding wear bit. Both figures have unusually flat bases which are stable under movement and pressure. They were found together at an ancient chert quarry and workshop site at Flint Ridge, Glenford, Ohio, and are essentially the same size.

    Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio. Interpreted as a bird with well defined wing facing right and another creature with an eye, perhaps a bird, facing left.

    The dip seen on the back of the bird here is a cluster of quartz crystals which has been worn down

    The two Licking County, Ohio, artifacts with scale

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    Lisa Deason find, Lee County, Alabama, here interpreted as a "sleeping duck" figure. Another sleeping duck figure and a face depiction similar to the one below were featured earlier on this blog.

    Lisa identified a human face depiction on this stone. The portion of the figure "above the eyes" is here interpreted as a profile of a mammoth facing left, where the bump of the mammoth's head is the peak of the human forehead. This motif is seen in other examples on this blog.

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    Henri Valentie find, Île d'Oléron, France, 39cm /17cm and 23cm thick, pink sandstone

    The "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" art motif originated in the Lower Paleolithic about 500,000 years ago and persisted for hundreds of thousands of years. It would seem impossible for such continuity of a cultural tradition if we did not have the example of the Acheulean handaxe technology which persisted for about one million years.

    Right profile view of the bust

    Here is a view of the left side of the face with mark ups added. The line extending from the left eye of the face is a ground gouge made in the stone to represent a distortion or wound. This is commonly seen in this motif. The peak of the human's head here may also be interpreted as a possible representation of the profile of a mammoth, as seen in the posting just prior to this one. (Click photos to expand).

    Flint Ridge, Ohio, human bust with arrow pointing to manufactured line of distortion along the left side of the face. A round feature like an eyeball appears out of its socket on the cheek of the figure.

    One eye shut bust from the collection of Ursel Benekendorff. Photo Copyright (c) Ursel Benekendorff, All Rights Reserved. This bust is dated to c. 500,000 years old. A sea urchin fossil serves as the closed left eye of the German bust.

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    David Boies find, Austin, Texas

    This stone resembling a human footprint was found by David Boies in a strong context of other iconic objects. It seems to be an example of a mimetolith, or a natural stone which resembles something else. Because of the find context, it is likely someone in the distant past found it, recognized it and then brought it to the same location where other gathered and manufactured iconic stones have been found. This would make the stone a manuport, or something moved by hand. By the definition I use on this blog, this object also became an artifact when there was a judgement to bring it into the sphere of collected objects which humans surround themselves with.

    paper by Bustamante, et al., Search for meanings: from pleistocene art to the worship of the mountains in early China. Methodological tools for Mimesis.


    Bednarik (2009) described the Makapansgat jasperite cobble, a stone shaped as a human face deposited 2.5 to 3 million years ago. Tsao et al. (2006) demonstrated that face perception is a crucial skill to primates, humans and macaque monkeys. Applying two methodological tools of the EntornoArchaeology - Psychological and Geographical Entorno-, may allow to understand the process that probably led the Pleistocene humans to sacralize rocks -Mimetoliths- and objects -Mimetomorphs- with natural forms that resembled animals or human beings, in increasing scale, from small rocks, big rocks, mountains and Mountainous ranges, in the early Chinese culture, where we have found that three mythological characters: Pan-Gu (盘古), Fu-Xi (伏羲) and Shen-Nong (神农), probably were sacralized mountains.

    Mimesis, by the psychological phenomena of Pareidolia, Apophenia and Hierophany (The PAH triad), might explain the many instances when humans between Pleistocene and early chinese culture attributed religious significance or extraordinary connections to ordinary imagery and subjects. On the other hand, Mimetoliths and Mimetomorphs might contribute to explain the origins of Palaeoart, animism and religion.

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  • 08/16/14--21:00: Arkfeld site footprint icon
  • Adam Arkfeld find, Clear Brook, Virginia, site #44FK732, among other iconic objects

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     A simple flying bird figure (wings on the down-stroke), Vanport chert, Licking County, Ohio

     Subtle human facial profile facing left

    Reverse side of the bird figure

    Human facial profile facing right

    The exact tip of the human facial profile's nose, from both sides of the stone, has two manufactured divots in the flint presumably to serve as nostrils. This topic has been covered in several postings on this blog, including this one. This detail helps confirm status of an intended bird sculpture here with human imagery on its "tail."

    The are a several flying bird figures incorporating human imagery which have been featured on this blog. It is quite possible birds were thought of as psychopomps, or "soul escorts," into birth and life and/or death and the afterlife, and this may help explain some human and bird combination stone figures.

    Flying bird right profile. These bird figures were found in the same area. They do not have any human imagery but provide a bird figure archaeological context.

    Side 2

    Side 1 and 2

    Even at a chert quarry, limestone is not immune from use to make a bird figure 

    Here is dirty stone figure found about 10 miles from the Flint Ridge find site of the featured artifacts here, along with an illustration of a simple bird figure from Paleolithic Siberia. This was featured in another posting.

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    Find by Burak Yitgin of Istanbul, Turkey, from the island of Rhodes, Greece

    This find resembling a human head figure may also exhibit evidence of human modification to affect the known Palaeoart motif of a human face mask showing "one eye open, other eye shut or missing." I made markups on the photo in white to illustrate some of the areas which one might investigate.

    The area of the left eye appears to have at least four score marks as incised lines to "blank out" the eye. On the left cheek area are two lines terminating at the same point, possibly to express the injury or distortion to the left side of the face seen in other examples of these mask images. The nose and right eye may also have some human modification. Inside the circled area is likely work to define the ear and ear lobe of the sculpture.

    An examination of this object by a competent petrologist could identify areas of artificial modification which would confirm this as humanly worked. Even if an all-natural found object, it seems likely it would have been noticed in prehistory on the Island of Rhodes and that Burak Yitgin is not the first person to notice its human likeness.

    Right profile of human head figure

    Left profile of human head figure found by Burak Yitgin on the island of Rhodes

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    Flint axe with human face find by Torben Hedvall, from Silkeborg, Denmark

    This axe has been given two eyes to complete a facial image including nose, mouth and chin. The eyes appear to have been at least started using a hollow reed drill and they may have been further worked once the initial grooves were established. This is the second such iconic Neolithic axe identified by Mr. Hedvall.

    The ancient artifact has been added to a reconstructed shaft

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    Translucent petrified wood standing bear figure found by Chris Schram, Westminster, Colorado

    This bear figure is made on the same artistic template as the one pictured above it. They are both left profiles which have work to define the front legs and they have been retouched to add detail to the eye areas. These kinds of templates were probably culturally determined and provided all the visual ques needed for the viewer to get the message.

    Bear 3

    Bear 4

    Bear 5

    Bears 6 and 7

    Bear 8

    Bear 7 repeated, with bears 9 and 10

    Chris is able to identify some distinctions among the bear figures and includes this graphic on his web site. Some of the figures include a shoulder hump suggestive of the Grizzly Bear.

    This bear figure facing right, as if crouched on a rock, identified by Chris Schram was featured in an earlier posting, as have several of his petrified wood figurative pieces. This figure may also have claws depicted which is another distinguishing characteristic of the Grizzily.

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    Find by Christer Stone of Sweden, 25cm tall

    Christer Stone writes for "Here is the story how I found it. I was about ten years old and was on summer holidays which I used to spend with my parents at my grandparents cottage near Gothenburg in Sweden. Me and my brother used to catch lizards and snakes in the area. I discovered it by coincidence when I was looking for reptiles. It was half buried in the ground and only possible to resemble an eye.

    The eye made me curious of the rest so I brushed some loose sand off it. It was hard to get it loose from the ground and I was afraid my older brother would see me digging and claim that it was his find. I covered it up with the loose sand and ran to tell my mother about it and we went back looking for the head but did not find it.

    The stone head have consigned to oblivion but twenty years later I made a nostalgic trip to my summer childhood area. Sitting and looking at the ground I saw something which resembled an eye. Instantly I recognized and remember the find I tried to dig up so many years ago. It clearly appeared to be a head of a man, with very recognizable features."

    Christer Stone: "It looks like the lips have rotted and the teeth are visible."

    Close up of the right eye of the human head sculpture

    Anaglyph three dimensional photo requires 3D red/cyan eye glasses

    The Gothenburg, Sweden, find location of the flint head is 475km distance from the site at Groß Pampau, Germany, discovered by Ursel Benekendorff where the "one eye missing" motif may be seen as early as c. 500,000 years ago.

    To my eye, this is a mimetolith which looks to have been enhanced with some human modifications. Here it is considered a sculpture, or perhaps more accurately, a proto-sculpture. This object fits the known palaeoart motif of a human face mask with right eye open, left eye closed or missing, and with distortion to the left side of the face. There are many examples of this seen on this blog.

    My findings suggest the distortion to the left side of the face and missing eye are symbolic of a lion's bite to the head in this motif. Someone in the past likely found this object and was inspired by its natural likeness to a human head in the desired motif form. It was likely curated and treated as a cultural object.

    Archaeology is "skeptical" (has chosen to remain ignorant) of the nature of these kinds of objects but a competent petrologist or flint knapper may be able to identify some parts of the stone which have seen the work of the human hand. The left eye in particular has had the cortex or outer rind of the stone removed to expose the fresher flint inside. The mouth and nose area may also have human modifications to complete the desired form as it includes "teeth" as seen in many other portable rock art human head figures.

    Mousterian "one eye missing" sculpture, c. 200,000 years before present

    Artifact from Germany as seen at Photographer © Walther Matthes. Matthes, W. (1969). Eiszeitkunst im Nordseeraum. Otterndorf, Gr: Niederelbe-Verlag; (1964/1965). Bild 62.

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    Slag mammoth sculpture identified by Adam Arkfeld, Clear Brook, Virginia

    The slag mammoth was found in the context of many portable rock art mammoth figures from the Arkfeld site, #44FK732

    Slag mammoth stands on three legs. The 4th leg has disintegrated.

    View of the bottom of the slag mammoth figure

    Site owner and amateur archaeologist Adam Arkfeld submitted an organic-bearing sample of slag for AMS radiocarbon dating and has received a date of >43,500 years before present from Beta Analytic Labs. He is planning further dating tests.

    The slag mammoth sculpture along with the C-14 date indicate a very early human presence in North America. 

    A Levallois technology tool from the site identified by Mr. Arkfeld

    Possible Pleistocene metal spear point

    This spear point has the same morphology as some of the stone tools at the Arkfeld site.

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    Archaeologist Clive Finlayson has identified a cross hatch pattern at Gibraltar, which he attributes the creation of, to Neanderthals

    Archaeologists like Finlayson should attempt to explain the existence of a very similar symbolic marking convention in Koonalda Cave, Australia, and Seneca Cavern, Ohio. According to popular wisdom, Neanderthals could not have been in Australia or America. So maybe they could explain how a proposed Neanderthal behavior could have been transferred to another "species" (Homo sapiens sapiens) and to places so distant from Gibraltar.

    Just like the Gibraltar example in the article, the Ohio cave grid carvings I discovered are on a flat stone shelf extending from the cave wall and approximately 16 inches above the cave floor. It may have marked an ideal sitting spot. Seneca Cave, Ohio, and Koonalda Cave, Australia, both have underground bodies of water. Koonalda also has deliberate markings on a stone shelf.

    Schematic of Koonalda Cave, Australia

    Archaeologists like Finlayson are too quick to attribute art examples to Neanderthals because they have a certain date and time frame for the "arrival of modern humans" in Western Europe. These dates and the certainty of them are quite dubious. They are based largely on association of tool and technology types to different human species or cultures, which is invalid (R. G. Bednarik). Stone tool sets do not equate to cultures or human types like Neanderthals or "moderns."

    The 'hash tag' motif is likely a manifestation of the grids commonly seen entoptically by humans in deep states of shamanic and meditative trances. Perhaps Neanderthals and modern humans had the same cognitive abilities and mind-state alteration practices. Is the cross hatch carving a shared behavior which can destroy the intelligence dichotomy implied by definitions like "Neanderthals" and "modern humans?"

    Or maybe Archaeology should explore the existence of this motif on three continents as an indicator that Neanderthal humans made their way around the world in the many tens of thousands of years they dominated the planet.

    Or perhaps the link to Neanderthals cannot be so certain at Gibraltar because modern humans were also purveyors of these grids.

    More information is needed to assure us that this Gibraltar find is indeed attributable to Neanderthals. At this time, I do not think this is possible. Meanwhile, ample evidence of Heidelbergensis and Neanderthal art detected by amateur and professional archaeologists is completely ignored by the mainstream discipline because it does not fit its dogma. If Finlayson is eager to discover Neanderthal art in situ, he might consult with the people who have actually studied it, such as art and religion scholar James Harrod, Ph.D. or Robert G. Bednarik who describes a larger Middle Paleolithic corpus of rock art than that from the Upper Paleolithic.

      Koonalda Cave, Australia

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    Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber find, near Joplin, Missouri, site #23JP1222

    This stone is interpreted as including a feline face image looking straight-on, with its chin being the lowermost extremity. The chin, mouth, nose, muzzle area of the feline's face is the visual trigger for the overall image. The projection at right, like the narrowing end of a cornucopia, may have served as a handle for the feline face to be manipulated like a kind of puppet. When I saw this, I immediately saw the feline face but I had to disregard the extra stone on top of it because it does not look like anything in the photo. It may be a part of the sculpture awaiting interpretation or just meant to be ignored when focusing attention on the feline face.

    The Old Route 66 Zoo feline face image within the larger stone

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    Interpreted by Adam Arkfeld as a horse head figure with incised lines resulting in a diamond shape pattern. Many horse head figures have been identified from the Arkfeld site at Clear Brook, Virginia, site #44FK732.

    Early art and religion scholar James Harrod writes on his blog at "In my July 15 2009 blog I speculated on how several engraved ochre pieces from Blombos Cave Middle Stone Age (Henshilwood, d'Errico and Watts 2009) appeared, at least to me, as having more than just a bunch of scrape marks. Rather they appeared to have overall shapes and then intentional markings that were zoomorphic, with closest zoomorphic matches being 'lion', 'elephant' and 'wildebeest'. Now I'd like to point out another zoomorph in red ochre from a different MSA site, Klasies River Cave 1 (d'Errico, Moreno and Rifkin 2012)."

    Side 2 of the Arkfeld site horse head figure. The diagonal lines on this side appear to be natural and there is a lack of clear incised lines going in the opposite direction which would result in the diamond shapes like seen on side 1. The artist may have exploited these ready-made natural lines on side 1 and added the lines to affect a cross pattern.

    Pictured with scale (inches) or 6.67cm

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    Limestone with a carved grid pattern identified by Adam Arkfeld
    Clear Brook, Virginia, site #44FK732

    Several of the horizontal lines in this orientation have small uniformly spaced markings on them. The grid along with these markings would seem to provide all the necessary variables of combinations and arrangements for full expression of a complex written language.

    Ken Johnston generalized illustration of the kind of incised grid pattern including small marks which may be observed on the Arkfeld site artifact.

    View of side 3

    This abraded and incised stone from the Arkfeld site was featured earlier on this blog. It has incised lines radiating from a circle feature like seen on the incised stone featured in this post.

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     David Boies find, Westlake, Texas
    Mammoth form combined with face mask icon

    Rather than accurate representation, Palaeoart is more so about recognition, perhaps the process of discovery, and inclusion of significant natural form. In a strong context of iconic objects in Westlake, Texas, this stone may be seen to contain an "element of an elephant" along with an abstracted human, feline or human/feline face mask. The mammoth with human form on the posterior is a North American portable rock motif already documented on this blog. (click photos to expand and toggle)

    What may look like "visual noise" or "junk" or "just a rock" to some observers today may have been quite starkly perceived as significant by a peoples living in a more natural world without mass images and mass icon production and so many 90 degree angles.

    Stone objects like this were likely serendipitous finds for culturally motivated artists. If a natural find suggested a mammoth and a face mask, it would be modified as necessary to satisfy the requirements of the artist. Here, there appear to be engravings to enhance the trunk of the animal and some kind of alteration to the stone to affect a mammoth eye in the anatomically correct position. The face mask image seems to have been assisted with some stone removal. The natural form presented to the prehistoric artist has been rectified according to cultural imperatives which may be somewhat understood by modern-day interpreters.

    David Boies finds, Westlake, Texas, among the portable rock art and identified as possibly iconic tools. They may provide insight into the tool forms Archaeology might look for in its search for the earliest Americans.

    A snarling flint

    Zoomorphic flint imagery identified by Mr. Boies would not have been lost on prehistoric peoples in the area who seemed to collect such objects.

    Westlake, Texas, small quartzite bird figure with possible grinning human face configuration on its back, identified by David Boies.

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    Interpreted by Jan van Es as a proboscidean profile figure facing left

    Beegden, The Netherlands, recent finds by Jan van Es, estimated by tool technology context and glacial geology at Lower Paleolithic, >400,000 years before present.

    Pin point at Beegden, The Netherlands, with River Maas to the east.

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