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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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    Interpreted as "votive offering bird figures" from the Stonehenge site, courtesy The Open University

    Photo by The Open University, Stonehenge site stone bird figures
    Photo plate with a frame around the Maine figure which has a striking similarity to the bird figures identified from Stonehenge by The Open University. Photo from "A Report on the Archaeology of Maine," Warren K. Moorehead, 1922.

    125 years later, these words are very relevant to the new approach required for more thorough and meaningful portable rock art studies:

    “… The museums are full of axes, celts, pipes, banner stones, discoidals, hematites, tubes, slate ornaments and ceremonials, pestles, hammers, etc. What the museums need (as of great value to Archaeological Science) are collections from a single locality including everything found in that locality. They want the finds of the village site, the studies in unfinished specimens, the poor and the good, the imperfect as well as the perfect. In this regard, the collectors make a great error. Most of them do not save everything but cling to the ‘pretty relics’ and discard the rough and the rude. Personally, I would give more for a collection, provided it contained all the types, all the finds of a certain valley than for just the fine, perfect objects of that valley. From a collection of the latter, I would be misled, for if I accepted it as indicative of the people of that valley, I would say they made the most beautiful works of aboriginal art, nothing rude or unfinished being turned out by their artisans. In such a statement, I would be unpardonably wrong.”

    Warren K. Moorehead, 1884

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    Little mammoth figure with human face in bas relief on its side
    Find by archaeologist Jan van Es, The Netherlands
    The human/mammoth combination seen in Hans Gram's sculpture featured in the prior posting and in other sculptures featured on this blog is also seen here on this small pebble with a mammoth form including eye, with a simple human face icon on its side. The mammoth is facing right and the human face is looking straight-on, perhaps smiling. The photo at right shows human stone removal to define the oval-shaped human head.

    American paleolithic sculpture example of a smiling human face on the side of a mammoth
    This North Carolina mammoth shaped sculpture (in profile facing left) identified by Buzzy Boles was interpreted in an earlier posting on this blog as having a carved smiling human face mask, a bison head looking right and a lion face in the lower left as illustrated here.

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    Luigi Chiapparoli find and identification of an elephant sculpture in Italy

    Jan van Es made these comments and interpretation of this sculpture: "The corpse is in fact of a baby elephant (mammoth of the child). In many sculptures of animals (bear, elephant, bison, etc..) is a portrait by the legs visible. Here I see a man's face by the hind legs. On the side of the belly I see a female form of a symbol of fertility. That's why I think it's a young male animal."

    Interpretive drawing by Jan van Es. A depiction of a wisent is illustrated in top part of the drawing here linked to the contemporary male symbol.

    Interpretive drawing by Jan van Es
    These animal combinations and arrangements as interpreted by Jan van Es may also be seen in North America but continue to be ignored by a field too comfortable to dismiss them as "cloud watching" by hopelessly naïve people. Too many lay persons and amateur archaeologists have noticed these portable rock art forms but have received the "Boucher de Perthes" treatment from a field which claims to operate as a science but has no mechanism or desire to handle anomalous material.
    Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes was vindicated in his observation of stone tools in association with extinct Pleistocene fauna and with proper science he will be vindicated that pierre-figures, or figure stones, may be found right alongside the tools. 

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    "Bird sculpture with quartz crystal eye"
    Flint Ridge, Muskingum County, Ohio

    The sculpture measures 10cm x 14cm

    New perspective moving to the right from top 3 photos. A second bird (owl face) comes into view.

    The bird's eyes as seen in the top three photos are seen in circles here. The top bird's left eye becomes the right eye in another possible bird figuration on this artifact, seen at right with a mark up of my interpretation of a worked owl face icon with beak here.

    Quartz crystal bird's eye is seen protruding along the upper left edge of the artifact as seen here. It has been exposed and incorporated into the sculpture with great skill and artistry.

    Obverse view of the sculpture

    The Ohio bird sculpture has similar form to an owl sculpture from The Old Route 66 Zoo, site 23JP1222. Both sculptures stand upright on bases and present in correct viewing orientation. 

    These sculptures are products of mimetic iterations of culturally mediated imagery which likely span millennia and hundreds of miles in North America.

    A second owl sculpture in Flint Ridge material with quartz crystals from Buckeye Lake, Licking County, Ohio, which is one of seven sculptures found together as a "hoard."

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     "Minnesota mammoth standing on the ground with a human face on its posterior"
    photos by Mark Jones, artifact from Gibbon, Minnestota
    6.8kg, 53cm wide to 33cm tall = ratio of 1.606

    Mark Jones of Glen Burnie, Maryland, is a fossil hunter and artifact collector whose figure stone find and interpretation "Kissy Birds" was featured in my first article on this blog. Several other of Mark's finds from Piney Point near the convergence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay have also been featured. Mark contacted me today regarding a friend's anomalous artifact find from Minnesota. They could see the object had been worked but did not know if it could be a tool, some kind of art, a trail marker, etc. and asked for my opinion on it.

    Columbian mammoth reconstruction to illustrate profile shape

    The artifact struck me as having the classic mammoth icon shape seen in other portable rock art sculptures seen on this blog and elsewhere. It appeared to have been chipped along its edge to produce the shape of the rough outline a mammoth. The mammoth is depicted as standing on the ground which is a flat, elongated surface acting as a base for the vertical mammoth figure.

    To support the idea that this is a Paleolithic mammoth sculpture, I interpret a worked human face figure on the posterior of the overall mammoth shape of the stone. This is in line with this same motif seen on other examples and in sum they are not attributable to coincidence. They are attributable to a robust North American palaeoart tradition which produced identifiable patterns of symbols and symbol arrangements on stone.

     "Human face right profile on posterior of mammoth icon." 
    Close up of worked human face on lower right edge of the sculpture as if on the mammoth's "leg"

    To quote Jan van Es from a posting made about an Italian mammoth sculpture from Montarsolo on 8 October: "In many sculptures of animals (bear, elephant, bison, etc..) is a portrait by the legs visible. Here I see a man's face by the hind legs." This mammoth also exhibits a face in the place of the mammoth's rear leg and supports van Es' interpretation of the Italian artifact and others.

    Objects like this can have value to us even as surface finds with what would normally be considered weak archaeological context. Portable rock art can have what I call "self-supporting context," where there is more than one element of the same piece which have "art" attributes and each these elements should be considered as supporting the veracity of the interpretation of the piece as a whole. The mammoth profile and the human face I interpret here would have more limited value if they were the sole potential art elements of a piece. But combined together on the one piece, with physical placement in "correct" position compared to other known forms, they make a most compelling case in support of an art interpretation.

    View of the bottom of the "base" of the sculpture.

    Amateurs will continue to serve up examples on silver platters like this until some good scientist determines it is time to be looking for these kinds of objects in situ. If they do not look, they will not find. I am confident if they do look more closely for art attributes in all stone material at archaeological sites they will find a world of symbolic information left in stone by our ancestors- an art world that can inform us more about our human past than the technological tool sets which are the basis of our current archaeology.

    "Although incised cobbles are common at the Gault site, portable art is otherwise rare at early New World localities, and, in either case, this art emphasizes simple geometric patterns rather than the naturalistic portrait style that characterizes much (though not all) of the portable art in the European Upper Paleolithic. Given the difference in the nature of the early portable arts of these hemispheres, there is no reason to expect parallels between their rock art corpora, and good reason to doubt that similarities would exist. Even though there may be occasional examples, early New World art apparently simply did not emphasize (now extinct) megafaunal species, but most likely for cultural reasons rather than due to chronology alone."

    Journal of Archaeology
    Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 713159, 15 pages
    Review Article
    Rock Art Dating and the Peopling of the Americas

    David S. Whitley

    The above statement, which also reflects the current consensus of Archaeology regarding figurative portable rock art in America, now stands refuted. -Ken Johnston

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    Acheulean handaxe from the Sahara, west Africa, interpreted as including a facial profile of a monkey-like creature like other examples noted by Ken Johnston on this blog.

    ORIGIN: WEST AFRICA (Sahara desert), from an old collection.
    length : 15.5 cm ( 6.10 inches)
    width : 8 cm ( 3.14 inches)
    thickness : 5 cm ( 1.96 inches)
    made of JASPER with Saharan patina

    These kinds of Acheulean "decorated handaxes" have been documented by scholars and amateur archaeologists in Europe for several decades and are predicted to be found in existing archaeological and museum collections if time and care is made to inspect for them. Some of the facial profiles are human and some are animals.

    Face profile on middle right edge on this handaxe from Dunbridge, Hampshire, was featured in an earlier posting on this blog. The handaxe is centered on stone cortex (light feature) which was intentionally retained by the artifact's creator. This face is similar to the new identification from north Africa above.

    Another Sahara desert Acheulean handaxe which appears to have an area worked out to present a face of a creature, perhaps a human or feline.

    A European handaxe identified in an earlier posting compares favorably to the new handaxe from Africa above it. Both have anthropomorphic/zoomorphic faces on the lower right edge.

    The "fish mouths" interpreted on two artifacts a couple of postings ago were also in this approximate position, hinting that these so-called tools also served as a kind of display frame for expression of symbolic zoomorphic forms.

    John Feliks, a co-founder of the Pleistocene Coalition, has demonstrated in a series of falsifiable proofs that homo erectus was highly intelligent and creative:

    "Hence, the following advanced cognitive qualities may be quite easily assumed for the species Homo erectus by way of geometric analogy: interrelationship sensitivity and complex organizational skill; language; use of metaphor and hidden meaning; philosophy; mysticism or other “spiritual” perspectives; and a general ability to discern, appreciate, and create the most subtle nuance within any area of intellectual endeavor."

    Baboon head depiction on a handaxe. Part of the stone's cortex was retained to depict the animal's nose and mouth.

    Here is an example of a baboon head depiction I discovered on an Acheulean handaxe from the Île-de-France, along with a human head depiction on the obverse, which was featured in an earlier posting.

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    "Full face of a cat"
    Arthur Langeneckert, Jr., find, Crawford County, Missouri

    Link here to Alan Day's web site Mr. Langeneckert makes reference to

    I think it is very possible this sculpture depicts a fractal-like "cat face within a cat face within a cat face" for a total of three cat faces in the one perspective. The 2nd cat's left eye is the right eye of the 1st cat (shared eye).  The 3rd cat is depicted at the mouth of the 2nd cat, a motif I have interpreted on a 300,000 year old artifact from the Belgian Kempen.

    Here is a 9 year old's drawing of the "face within a face" art concept, expressed like fractals through 5 levels, one going off the paper and out of the frame of reference. A similar kind of representation is also seen in portable rock art as in this fine example from Mr. Langeneckert's Missouri collection.

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    Chris Schram find, near Big Dry Creek, Westminster, Colorado

    Chris interprets a cartoonish anthropomorphic face profile looking left with an exaggerated long face and nose. The mouth is marked red to orient this figure. A black line is added here to show the subtle definition in the rock work which is used to delineate a bird head also looking left, where the human and bird figures share the same "eye." 

    Sleeping Duck carved figure stone, Bob Doyle collection, Maine

    Mesopotamian haematite sleeping bird figure 1200 -582 BC

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    Hoabinian culture (Hòa Binh) figure from near Hanoi, Vietnam, ca 16,000 -10,000 years before present
    Tira Vanichtheeranont collection, Bangkok, Thailand

    Obverse view

    Areas of suspected human modification: fingers on right hand, navel, left arm and hand definition, faint remnants of two eyes and a mouth.

    Turkish figures: Tira Vanichtheeranont noticed similarity with the figure at right here, from Çatalhöyük, to his doll from Vietnam, both depicted with right arms bent at the elbow

    Tira writes: "I got that doll from a friend who is an archeologist in Vietnam. He told me that doll is from Hòa Binh Culture, north of Vietnam, near Hanoi City. After I have this doll, I try to get more information on Google and finally, I got the article of these dolls from Turkey."

    The Indus Valley may be thought of as the geographic "mid-point" on a journey between Vietnam and Turkey. One wonders if the "bent arm" figuration is simply an expression of a universal aesthetic appeal of its visual form, or whether it may be an iconographic representation with a related or shared symbolic meaning across time and distance. This figure has a composition more in line with our contemporary art sense than the nature-based Vietnam and Turkey figures. Though a few thousand years old, she seems to be saying "Where have you been and why you smell like perfume?"

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    Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio, 8cm,11cm
    "Human head profile with pink lips looking left"

    Flint Ridge, Ohio, has been demonstrated on this blog to be the locus of significant iconographic sculpture and figure stone production. The state archaeologist attributes these items to my cloud-watching. While the museum in Columbus spends significant time on an Egyptian mummy, the "world heritage class" portable rock art enterprise at Flint Ridge continues to be ignored. Unlike most scientific endeavors, Archaeology seems to have no mechanism or interest in anomalous material which it cannot explain other than "you have pareidolia." 

    Perhaps this exquisitely beautiful art piece will prompt someone in Archaeology to begin the process of scientifically assessing this kind of material and the potential of finding it in situ in dated context. A multi-disciplinary team is needed which is committed to a fair examination of the suspect material and which understands pareidolia is a part of the universal human experience, not an argument.

    And if archaeologists continue to ignore the need to sample even the most obscure lithic material at their sites for visual or iconic properties like those presented by many amateurs on this blog, they will continue to destroy their sites and the invaluable art information which was recorded on stone.

    The human depiction here appears to be of a "robust type person" with a prominent brow ridge and mid-facial prominence, as opposed to a "gracile type person" (Bednarik) with more of a flat face and forward chin. For background on these human types which informs the study of potentially Pleistocene art objects, please see Bednarik, The Origins of Human Modernity, at the bottom of the Archaeology of Portable Rock Art main page.

    This is the sculpture rotated 90 degrees to the right for comparison to a French example below

    From portable rock sculpture author Pietro Gaietto, Genoa, Italy
    attributed to the middle-Acheulean, from central France

    This is a shadow view of the sculpture from Licking County, Ohio

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    Dennis Boggs collection, suspected Stone Age manuport collected for its resemblance to the head and trunk of a proboscidean (mammoth). 17cm,7cm. Columbia River valley, at Irrigon, Oregon, likely after ca. 13,000 YBP, dated by Ice Age Missoula flood events

    Oregon mammoth-like head figure. The rock broke during shipping from Oregon to Ohio and has been reassembled for photography.

    Suspected proboscidean (family of elephants) head representations from The Netherlands collection of archaeologist Jan van Es

    Patterns of iconographic stones like these can emerge from locations which produce tools and other evidence of human presence. They are typically distinct from background lithic material and appear to have been serendipitously natural shaped stones which were collected into the material culture (or curated) and sometimes modified to further enhance the starting form nature had presented.

    Aanother example of the animal sculpture forms in the Dennis Boggs collection is this fine "Whale of a Figure stone" featured in an earlier posting.

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    Bill Waters collection, Texas
    Interpreted by Ken Johnston as a possible Pan American Giant Sloth head

    Postage stamp from Brazil

    Bill Waters has documented a number of iconic flints in his collection of a retired archaeologist's Texas lithic "debitage" and cultural waste material. Bill interpreted anthropomorphic qualities on the stone. When I saw it, it struck me as a fair likeness, with an "eye," of the sloth images I was familiar with from my study of Pleistocene fauna. As R. Dale Guthrie has noted, sometimes the figures in Paleolithic art combine human and animal qualities.

    Bill Water's markup showing the human face image he interprets

    Bill identified this piece as having a strong likeness to a camel head. He could not imagine why a camel head would be found in a Texas artifact collection. After researching the topic, he learned Camelops indeed inhabited the Americas in Pleistocene times, until about 10,000 years ago, making it quite possible humans may have collected and made objects reflecting visual characteristics of this animal.

    Texas Acheulean tradition biface, Bill Waters collection
    A human face looking right is depicted on the worked edge

    To support the idea of a Pleistocene age for Bill's "sloth head" and "camelops head" artifacts and the possibility they are intended icons, they were found in a macro context with this "North American Acheulean Handaxe" featured in a prior posting on this blog, which exhibits a facial profile on the lower right edge as seen a few postings ago from Europe and north Africa.

    The same iconic handaxe art tradition is now demonstrated to be found on three continents. It may be a clue to an early human presence in Texas.

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    Denis Argaut collection of galloping lithophonic horse sculptures from France

    Denis Argaut interpretion of a white horse head figure with perforated eye which reproduces the galloping sound of a horse when rocked with a finger. Denis' finds are from near Toulouse with some from the Dordogne.

    Watch this video of the "Galloping white horse" pictured above.

    Denis interprets the obverse side of the horse head as a figure of an eagle head

    With over 15 years of intimate work with stone figures in France, Denis Argaut has come to appreciate the use of light and shadow in the Stone Age sculptures he has studied. Denis is able to take many hours to consider one sculpture in differing light schemes, different times of day, different seasons of the year. His close work with the stone sculptures led to what amounts to a significant discovery in the annals of the history of rock art.

    Denis has discovered some horse image figure stones have been engineered to produce the sound of a galloping horse when manipulated in a rocking motion by a human musician. These sound-stones may be thought of as the earliest audio recordings and Denis has discovered how to play them back for us.

    This "horse head" comes alive with light passing through its perforated eye as it moves to the sounds of the Stone Age.

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     From Silicate valleys, south west Egypt
    8 x 7 cm ( 3.14 x 2.75 inches ), 218 grams, 1090 carats

    This object was collected as Libyan desert glass formed when an asteroid or a comet hit the surface of the earth in this desert zone. It seems very possible this object was recognized as exotic material in the Stone Age and was transformed into a glass sculpture of a head with two eyes and a mouth. A scientific examination of objects such as this should be able to rule in or out the presence of human agency.

    Rather than defaulting to a determination of "geofact" status with pareidolia on the part of the modern-day interpreter, archaeological science must actually thoroughly examine each find like this from a non-prejudicial approach. Too much importance rides on the possibility of human agency to write off objects like this as "just rocks." For example, if confirmed to be worked artifacts, iconic objects may be able to direct researchers to locations of archaeological sites or zones, or to the raw materials which were preferred for sculpting.

    Mother nature can of course produce objects such as this but this one appears worked and because of the rarity of the material should be considered as an item which could have been modified by the human hand.

    8 x 7 cm ( 3.14 x 2.75 inches ), 218 grams, 1090 carats

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    Pecked face on handaxe firmly places figurative art in the mind of Homo erectus, in addition to the geometric aesthetic which produced the classic amygdaloid shaped artifacts. Two other West African examples were presented last month on this blog.

    The inverted Acheulean handaxe shape in the photo above left may be thought of as a symbolic womb with a possible representation of a human fetal-like form with oversized head as illustrated here.  

    Acheulean, West Africa, Sahara desert patina, Orange jasper

    length : 20,5 cm ( 8.44 inches)
    width : 10 cm ( 3.93 inches)
    thickness : 4.5 cm ( 1.77inches)

    "Acheulean handaxe with pecked face figure"

    The smiling face becomes a bit easier to see when the image size is scaled down.

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    Jan van Es 40 year collection, Netherlands and Holland finds

    Quartz pebble sculpture of human head with reflective mineral inclusion as eye and other eye deformed or missing as an example of common motif of "one eye open, one eye closed or missing or deformed." This motif originated in the Lower Paleeolithic at least 500,000 years ago. The van Es collection is from archaeology sites at Roermond and Boukoul worked for over 40 years.

    Early sculptors worked in micro detail and must have had a quite intimate scale of relating to these objects. They are the kind of thing one might ponder while holding the stone close in the hand, maybe while stuck inside in a cold winter.

    Mark Jones find, Piney Point, Maryland, identified as a worked pebble by this fossil and artifact hunter

    Featured in an earlier post is a water worn example of the one reflective eye pebble mask motif. Faint remnants of  added nostrils as engraved divots remain visible. Found near the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay at Piney Point.

    Ancient genetic data from Siberia places human lineages from north west Europe there and then into the Americas via the Beringia land bridge. The art of north west Europe could have arrived in Maryland from Asia or via a shorter Atlantic-based population movement. Now some genetic data supports the possibility of a western European component to the peopling of the Americas and offers a possible explanation for some of the similarities shared by the portable rock art objects from the two continents.

    I ran in to this multimedia sculpture at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art with the left eye depicted as missing as is seen in some of the Stone Age art.

    This may speak to the universal nature of facial recognition and how distorting just one element can significantly open the possibilities of meaning for the presentation. Maybe the distorted face is a primal image with meaning in the deep brain which is quick to evoke with the just the right visual cues.

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    Found (by "D") near Prescott, Arizona
    Interpreted by D as a bison figure, quartz

    Prescott, Arizona artifact

    Prescott, Arizona, the eye in correct position is a factor in evaluating artifact status 

    Prescott, Arizona, sleeping bird figure with head turned toward its tail

    D also kindly provided provides links to two Warren K. Moorehead articles about Arizona art objects:

    Prehistoric Implements: A Reference Book : a Description of the Ornaments ...

    Records of the Past, Volume 1

    Thanks to D for the photos and links.

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    Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber find, The Old Route 66 Zoo (OR66Z)
    Site bearing mutliple sculptures, Jasper County, Missouri

    This sculpted cobble depicts a lion head in profile facing left. 

    It also depicts a human face in the "face mask one eye open, one eye closed (or missing)" motif toward the right side looking at the viewer straight-on. The big dark cavity which is the left (and only) eye of the lion is also the right eye of the human face depicted.

    This is a representation of the now extinct North American Lion combined with an icon (face with closed eye) found in European Lower and Middle Paleolithic contexts.

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    Tira Vanichtheeranont collection, Bangkok, Thailand

    Tira writes: "This is a natural stone without any modification. The small pebble in the eye is also naturally stuck in and quite hard, can not be removed easily. This piece is found in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam area, end of the river before running to the sea. This piece looked like the actor in the movie "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame "

    While Tira's interpretation is that this is a natural stone, it has visual and stoneworking aspects which are comparable to suspected sculptures identified by north west European archaeologists like Ursel Benekendorff (Germany) and Jan van Es (The Netherlands) and Hans Grams (Germany) in Lower Paleolithic contexts.

    Evaluation for artifact status might include taking close petrological examination of the features illustrated above. They may indicate human intent to create a face icon in line with a long-lived portable rock art tradition.

    Another possible south east Asian pebble-face mask from Tira's collection featured earlier on this blog. Remarkably, this pebble has a crevice on the obverse side in which there are two very tiny pebbles wedged in what may a human action rather than a natural coincidence.

    One is square and one is round and they can be interpreted as serving as eyes with a round mouth below.

    Winona Axsom find, Portland, Oregon, in context of other sculpted rocks, featured earlier on this blog

    With examples of this motif in south east Asia and the North American west coast, and in north west Europe and the North American east coast, and from middle-America, this is an art tradition which may have spread or existed around the world.

    Mekong delta, Vietnam, Tira Vanichtheeranont collection

    Dennis Boggs collection, Irrigon, Oregon. Because this stone has been worked and is an artifact I think a very good chance a tiny foreign pebble has been inserted in the mouth crevice to serve as a "tooth." This is much like the tiny pebble serving as the left eye of the Vietnam object.

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