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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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    Quartz portrait. Boukoul site (The Netherlands).
    Typical old Acheulean face. 
    L-4cm, B-3cm 

    From archaeologist Jan van Es who must be more widely acknowledged for identifying the Boukoulian micro lithic industry of the Lower Paleolithic, ca. 400,000 years before present. Photo courtesy of Jan van Es.

    "Leon Battista Alberti, (1464) in his treatise “De Statua” describes the mode in which he thinks sculpture begun:“I believe that arts that aspire to imitate the creations of nature were originated according to the following scheme: on the trunk of a tree, a cloud of earth, or on any other thing, were accidentally discovered one day certain contours that needed only a few retouches to notably look like a natural object. Focusing on that, men examined if it was possible, by means of addition and subtraction, to complete what was missing to achieve the perfect resemblance. Thus, by adjusting and removing features according to the scheme required by the object itself, men succeeded in what they intended to do, and no without pleasure. From that day on, men´s ability to create images was growing until they knew how to form any kind of resemblance, even when the material did not present outlines that guided the labour” (Bustamante, et al.)


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     Microart sculpted face on a pebble. 
    The Dennis Boggs collection, Columbia River at Irrigon, Oregon
    Pebble measures 3.5cm by 5cm in this view. The worked aspect, top of eye to bottom of mouth, is within 19mm/5cm

    The left eye of the figure has some very small exposed crystals on the surface of the stone which reflect the direct sun like little sparkling stars. Unfortunately, my attempts to capture them with the camera were not successful. The stone comprising the left eye area does not have any sparkling attributes. This figure stone may well be an example of the "one eye open, one eye closed or missing" motif seen in world portable rock art as described at, and discovered by untold numbers of people from coast-to-coast in North America and in Europe. This is a meme originating in Lower Palaeolithic times, ca. 500,000-200,000 years before present, according to Its presence calls for study of the Columbia River valley in Oregon and Washington for more archaeological evidence of humans carrying this meme into America at an, as of now, unknown time.

    On close personal inspection at 10x lighted magnification through a Bausch and Lomb scope, I can recognize the eyes and under brow area as being humanly worked. One might think the mouth is a natural part of the stone which was exploited by the artist but I have seen enough of these "gashes" made on suspected art objects in the correct place (see the eyes on the figure "The Trickster" also found by Boggs) that I believe this is an intentional removal of stone material using a technique which was known to the early artists.

    Find by Dennis Boggs at Irrigon, Oregon, along the Columbia River and in the context of other portable rock art which has been featured on this blog. (Search BOGGS).

    View of the artifact to highlight two worn surfaces on the back which intersect at largely a right angle. The angle allows one to easily hold the head in the upright position in the finger tips as if to "experience the face and crystals" for oneself from the optimal viewing angle.

    Only when viewing the artifact at an angle to see the face in its optimal position does the piece take on an overall egg-shaped appearance. At no other viewing angle does the pebble have any kind of an egg shape.

    Thank you Dennis Boggs for sharing your 50 years of experience "looking at the rocks" along the Columbia!


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    A second example of a shell sculpture of made fossiliferous limestone.
     Licking County, Ohio, find by Ken Johnston

    The edges have been carefully trimmed to make the outline of a scallop shell shape utilizing a buffer/break technique. This is the second sculpture like this found at this location, also in context with other portable rock art objects and non-diagnostic primitive tools. This rock art form had significance to a people in the Licking Valley, Ohio, at some point in prehistory.

    Scallop shell sculpture example 2

    Scallop shell example 2, side 2, with scale


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    Anonymous rock collector may have found a stunning example of a flint and crystal lion's head facing left at Flint Ridge, Licking County, Ohio. (click photos to expand and compare)

    "Little bear from the Boukoul site. V.O.A. Jasper stone under 2 cm" from archaeologist Jan van Es, The Netherlands. (bottom) Ken Johnston interpretation and markup of lion mouth and eye in the photo to illustrate how the bear may be made within the lion head "template" or "scheme." Thus, this could be interpreted as a possible polymorphic piece, lion head and bear. van Es notes the piece is heavily patinated. 

    Three previously posted Ohio examples are shown below. The last one is patinated in a spot as if rubbed by the human hand.

     The size of this Upper Mercer flint lion's head is closer to the Boukoul, Netherlands, example

    American lion head reconstrction


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    A standing stone head with bas relief facial details and white paint traces
    Find by Ken Johnston, Licking County, Ohio, near Buckeye Lake

    This is the first of the art objects I discovered in my agriculture field hunting in Licking County, Ohio, about 15 years ago. At first glance I thought it was a notched pebble or possibly a net sinker but then I noticed the eyes, nose and mouth of the facial features. I have not seen anything looking like it or using the same manufacture techniques in the intervening years, attesting to the anomalous nature of this object to my central Ohio locale. 

    15 years ago, I dismissed this piece as likely insignificant because I perceived it as "crude and unsophisticated" thanks to the indoctrination I was receiving from the archaeology mainstream about the "high art nature of good and worthy" Native American art. Nowadays, I keep returning to the same area to look for more but no-till farming is not providing the soil access I had 15 years ago. Other suspected tools and art objects in area are thought to be Paleolithic (9000+ years old).

    There are traces of white paint on the artifact. This substance would be ideal for scientific archaeological analysis and could provide insight into the material culture of the person who produced this stone head.

    My inerpretation of the piece speculated it was used as a pendant hanging around ones neck where the hole wore through in use and the piece was then used as an idol standing on its neck base. The illustration above shows the back side the pendant as it would face ones chest. Areas of stone wear on the artifact suggest the pendant could have been handled significantly while being worn by someone. If the person were right handed, there is a nice thumb pad on one side and two notches which perfectly accomodate the index and middle fingers on the other side. 

    Heavy handling evidenced by this wear may have been responsible for the original hole wearing through and leaving the current gap in the center of the top of the head. 

    Seen from above with scale

    As an alternate explanation for the "horned aspect" of the Ohio figure's head, German rock art archaeologist Ursel Benekendorff noted the Ohio artifact's resemblance to known depictions of Celtic warriors from Germany. Maybe it was not a corded pendant but was designed to have a split head from the start in accordance with some cultural tradition, Celtic or other. Interestingly, the Ohio Licking River valley is home to burial mounds, the largest geometric earthwork in the world, and a possible sacra via, similar to descriptions of the German Celtic site at Glauberg.

    The Ohio figure on a small easel

    "Warrier of Glauberg" 2500 years before present


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    Dennis Boggs find, Irrigon, Oregon, along the Columbia River

    After a couple of years communication with archaeologist Jan van Es of The Netherlands, I have come to recognize some of the microlithic techniques of stonework and their visual hallmarks. This stone is of highly unusual stone material in the Dennis Boggs portable rock art collection.  

    I used my Bausch & Lomb 10x lighted scope to examine the pebble to confirm traces of intentional stone removal to create the images. It has three likely areas of stonework, creating three possible "human mask" images on the one pebble.  Rock art scholars will need to develop the scientific skills to confirm intentional workmanship on objects such as this. Anomalies which go unexamined (unexplained) by archaeology leave its public looking elsewhere for cogent explanations of their finds and observations.  Above, the scream mask and the grin mask are seen in the same view. The mouth of the scream mask is the nose of the grin mask while they share the same left eye.

    Skull mask (click photos to expand and compare)

     Scream mask

    Grin mask (face in left profile), created by an intentionally incised line on the stone


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    Rock art investigator Denis Argaut, (FR), blog Formes de' ombres. Find and interpretation as a "rocking horse," a horse head figure with a realistic galloping horse soundtrack demonstrated on YouTube by Mr. Argaut.

    Horse head looking left

    Watch the horse head rock back and forth and listen to the sound of the galloping horse

    Ken Johnston interprets a possible mammoth depiction here, where the mammoth is seen in profile view facing right. The curvature of the mammoth head and trunk is seen in the outline of the stone as seen on the right side in the YouTube picture above. The horse head can be seen as being depicted on the posterior of the mammoth image (just to the left of the play button), a technique of combining images in the Paleolithic noted already on this blog.

    Denis Argaut's interpretation is masterful and demonstrates how closely all rock material at archaeological sites must be scrutinized for "unusual" art properties. Mr. Arguat's special interest is in Stone Age exploitation of light and shadow in artistic expression. Ironically, he has made what must be recognized as a significant discovery in the realm of rock art sound.


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    Paleolithic female figurine in white quartzite from archaeologist Jan van Es, The Netherlands

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    A Lower Palaeolithic twinkle in the eye from the collection of archaeologist Jan van Es, The Netherlands


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    Find and photo by rock art investigator Luigi Chiapparoli, Mt. Logo at Montarsolo, Italy

    This Italian landscape subtle relief mask serves as a marker for an area producing a wide variety of prehistoric portable stone arts, identified by Luigi Chiapparoli, Piacenza, and seen at his photo gallery. Size of this giant face is approx 3 x 3 meters.


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    A possible depiction of the now extinct Platygonus (head) from Licking County, Ohio

    Found in a context of suspected Pleistocene tool and art forms, Buckeye Lake, Ohio. An iron-bearing concretion in the stone has been utilized as the animal's eye. Eye, ear, mouth and nose are present with intersecting incised lines at the eye. This animal head is made in subtle relief on a piece of local limestone.

    A Collared peccary (species survives today)

    Side 2 with scale


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    Found while dredging soils during mineral prospecting and recognized as an artifact. These forms are regularly called "nutting stones" with the assumption they were used for placement of nuts to secure them for cracking them open.  However, they do not seem to exhibit the use wear from pounding one might expect on such nut crackers. They may be symbolic art pieces in a world-wide tradition of the earliest known rock art and with significant cultural meaning.

    Illustration of a stone slab from La Ferrassie, France, a Neanderthal site where this piece covered a tomb as a sepulcher stone.

    This example found by Paleojoe and posted on TreasureNet, Adams County, Ohio, may support Ken Johnston's hypothesis that some Ohio portable cupule stones were made on rough mammoth profile shaped rocks. It has a flat "base" it would stand upright on and then the mammoth profile may be seen with the artifact in that orientation (similar to the photo seen above).

    Lynn Yoder's Indiana find (top photo) is plausibly also a rough mammoth profile with hind end at left and the curved trunk of a mammoth head at the edge on the right.


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    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.


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    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.


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    American Charles Hannan, living in Belgium, found this suspected manuport in his backyard in the sandy Kempen area in a 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."


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    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.


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    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.

    The Ohio bird like form at right was found in the context of other flint bird figures

    Side 2, cortex side of artifact has human facial imagery as seen highlighted in the photo markup at right. (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, with hairdo sweeping off to the 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


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    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, and I have seen no evidence that it was, it is much more likely the woman "matched" the art motif, as a kind of living embodiment, than the art was created as a portrait of the woman.

    Art 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.  


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    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.


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