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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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    Mammoth sculpture identified by Stacy Dodd, and Rod Weber, The Old Route 66 Zoo, 23JP1222
    Jasper County, Missouri

    Ken Johnston illustration of his interpretation of a running lion figure depicted in bas relief on the side of the mammoth sculpture. The lion and mammoth have a "shared tail." Shared body elements like this are commonplace in polyiconic sculptures of the Stone Age. (click photos to toggle and compare)

    Running lion silhouette approximates the interpreted bas relief form illustrated above

    Close-up view of the lion's head (facing left)

    All Three Mammoth Sculptures from Site 23JP1222 Include Lion Iconography: 

    Mammoth sculpture 1: identified as having 2 bison images on its back and a lion head on the mammoth's trunk

     Mammoth sculpture 2: identified as having a lion glyph incorporated into its back 

    Mammoth sculpture 3: featured in this article, identified as having a running lion figure on its side, sharing the tail of the mammoth as its own tail

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    Image of limestone bird-form from a poster presentation made by Alan Day at the International Rock Art Congress held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2013. Photos by Alan Day. 

    Independent portable rock art (figure stone) researcher Alan Day of Cambridge, Ohio, has confirmed human agency on stone figures at hilltop sites in Guernsey and Muskingum Counties, Ohio. Day co-authored a recent article in Ohio Archaeologist with petrologist Dr. Eric Law about a limestone-bird form.

    Most all archaeologists do not have the expertise to fully evaluate conditions of human agency the way a geologist/petrologist (rock formation specialist) is able to. Archaeology should acknowledge its general limitations in this area and should begin to defer to a scientific approach to evaluating artifact status as Mr. Day has done.

    However, Day's article shows Ohio Historical Society archaeologists have no interest in pursuing the subject of stones with iconic properties despite Ohio having a large number of examples reported by amateurs. They must have already determined they do not exist or they are not important to the development of archaeological knowledge in the Buckeye state. They would be wrong on both counts.

    Image and text from the journal Ohio Archaeologist, published by The Archaeological Society of Ohio. Copies of Ohio Archaeologist are available from the Society. VOLUME 63 NO. 4, FALL 2013, pp. 37-38. The quote is attributed to article co-author Dr. Eric Law, professor of geology and petrology at Muskingum University, New Concord, Ohio.

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    The overall shape of the stone is a bird form in left profile

    A human face on the bird's back, where the human's chin serves as the tail of the larger bird. A smaller protruding bird head form serves as the nose of the human.

    Mark Jones find, Piney Point, Maryland, depicting a view of a vulture from behind with a human face depicted on its back and tail was featured in an earlier posting on this blog. The human's chin is the end of the bird's tail, just like in Mr. Boies Texas example. 

    The Maryland and Texas objects are made in the same culturally-mediated tradition, despite being found 1300 miles apart. 

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    David Boies find, Austin, Texas, identified as an ape form with a face looking left

    Dennis Boggs find, Irrigon, Oregon, identified as an ape form with a face looking left, featured in an earlier posting on this blog

    Texas creature's face looking to the left

    Oregon creature's face looking to the left

    The creature depicted in the Oregon and Texas stone figures is of the same idealized form which must have been a shared cultural icon, despite being found 1,600 miles apart.

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    Rock with a suggestive avian form was immediately animated as a "bird" by addition of an eye in one selective and masterful blow by a Stone Age artist to a lithic material he must have known well. A conchoidal fracture bulb of force flake scar (in this case a perfect Hertzian cone) serves as the bird's eye. Artifact find and interpretation as a bird figure in a portable rock art context by David Boies, Austin, Texas

    Close up of the human-manufactured eye which, although simple, disambiguates the bird-form rock enough to be recognized as an intended bird figure in a context of other portable rock art finds, Austin, Texas.

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     Human head figure on a small pebble, find and identification by David Boies, Austin, Texas. Scale is in inches.

    Close up of the detailed stonework to compose the figure's right eye. A pigment may have been used to stain the stone to create the darker iris feature of the eye.

    Rotating the stone slightly reveals a flash of light of two otherwise hidden eyes which were manufactured by exposing the same plane of fracture of this pebble so light is reflected from both eyes at the same moment.

    Close up of the "hidden eyes" awaiting the observer's discovery when the stone is viewed while rotating in ambient light.

    Texas artifact at left compared to an illustration of a carved mammoth tusk ivory figure from Dolní Věstonice, Moravia, Czech Republic, dated to ca. 26,000 years before present. The similarity of this and a lion's head ceramic figure to North American portable rock art figures implies a relatedness of the iconography across a long distance from Europe to America, perhaps supported by the "mammoth steppe hypothesis" of Richard Holen

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    Tira Vanichtheeranont collection, Bangkok, Thailand

    Tira thinks this is a mimetolith, or a rock that looks like something. Even though its find context has been lost it may be an example of a natural form which was found in prehistory and elaborated upon by a Stone Age artist. It seems some carving may have been made to separate the bird, to better define it, in relation to the "rock" it is sitting upon. Even though the rock looks like a base for the bird sculpture, they are found or composed on the same piece of stone.

    This is the kind of object which the public needs to understand is important to archaeology so find locations are not lost because someone thinks it must be "just a rock." Pieces like this which can be determined to be artifacts may lead to new archaeological sites and new insights into ancient life ways.

    Leone Battista Alberti’s opening words in his treatise De statua, written about 1430. Here the origin of sculpture is described as follows:

    "Those who were inclined to express and represent... the bodies brought forth by nature would at times observe in tree trunks, clumps of earth, or other objects of this sort which through some slight changes could be made to resemble a natural shape. They thereupon took thought and tried, by adding or taking away here and there, to render the resemblance complete. Before long the primeval sculptors learned how to make images without depending on such resemblances latent in their raw material".

    This passage is the earliest statement of the idea that what sets the artist apart from the layman is not his manual skill but his ability to discover images in random shapes, i.e., his visual imagination, which in turn gives rise to the desire to make these images more explicit.

    Noted portable rock art investigator Jan van Es of Roermond, The Netherlands, writes:

    "Particularly people of the older stone-age traditions were handling the principle: nature shows and offers the basic forms or basic shapes. They acquired these forms to fix and perpetuate their "image-language" in typological iterations." (pers. comm.) 

    Washington sculptor Joy Jasinek says in a recent interview:

    “In my 28 years of stone sculpting, I have yet to purchase a squared stone and most likely will not. I do not come up with an idea and then sculpt it from a block. My ideas come from the natural shape and colors of each stone, whether I find a stone or purchase one from a stone vendor. Yes, there are vendors that seek quality and unusual stones from around the world for the sculpting trade. But, ouch … we pay by the pound!"

    “I noticed this large, pear-shaped, granite stone half-buried in a nearby field. Looking it over, what came to mind was a BIG FAT CAT.”

    Bessie Harvey, a 20th century wood carver explains the process to Barbara Olins Alpert in her book "The Creative Ice Age Brain: Cave art in the light of neuroscience"

    “I don’t design my work.  I don’t carve it.  I just make what I see from found objects.  The wood- the insects has already created what it is, and time.  Time rots away a lot of wood, and inside that wood, these little people hide.  I just go to them and find what I see and bring it out.  I think that God is the artist in my work.” 

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    Neolithic stone axe from near Silkeborg, Denmark
     22,3 CM,  Weight 1127 grams (42,5 ounces)

    The maker of this axe appears to have centered it on two inclusions in the stone which resemble eyes on the finished product- in what would be an anatomically correct position for "eyes on an axe" if such a thing existed. Such artistic centering of unique inclusions in the lithic material spans all-time, from the Lower Paleolithic to historical times.

    What meaning these "eyes" may have had remains elusive. Was it to bring the axe to life, to show off stone working skills or to amuse the maker? Only when archaeologists and collectors begin identifying possibly iconic tools like this and start comparing them and their find contexts, will we move toward being able to know what they mean.

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    Find by amateur archaeologist David King, Colne Valley, England, in a Lower Paleolithic tool context on the banks of the Pleistocene Thames River

    Interpretation of anthropomorphic head facing left split with a horned caprid head facing right by Ken Johnston. It is as if the animal heads are joined at the nape of the neck, like in the two heads of Janus. They eyes are circled and the mouths are in red in the illustration above. The anthropomorph is depicted with its mouth wide open, perhaps as in a yell.

    The head of an Alpine Ibex approximates the animal head of the animal head being depicted on this sculpture. 

    Paleolithic Art author Pietro Gaietto identified 8 sculpture types of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic, Number 5 on his list here includes this piece with a human like head and animal head joined together at the back of their heads:
    1) human head 
    2) animal head 
    3) human head two-faced 
    4) animal head two-faced 
    5) human head joined for the neck at the head of animal 
    6) human head mixed to animal head 
    7) naked woman (Venus)
    8) head of animal with human body.

    (Gaietto, 2012) Anthropomorphic Paleolithic Sculpture, From Homo habalis to Homo erectus and from Neanderthal Man to Modern Man (in English)

    Recent news: Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk

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    Complete obsidian stemmed tool found by workmen at Barema plantation, near Hargy, New Britain, PNG. Image: Peter White © Australian Museum

    From the Australian Museum: "A beautiful and expertly-flaked obsidian tool which formed part of a cache, rescued from a development site, offers a greater insight into the lives of ancient people that inhabited the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

    In October 2010 Dr Robin Torrence a Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum Reseach Institute was contacted by the General Manager at Barema oil palm plantation on New Britain Island. The company was in the process of bulldozing the side of a hill to make a house terrace. In the process they had uncovered a group of finely worked obsidian (volcanic glass) tools. A workman had recognized the obsidian as something belonging to the time of his ancestors and rescued a large tool before it could be crushed by the bulldozer."

    Torrence, R., White, P., Kononenko, N. 2013. Meaningful stones: obsidian stemmed tools from Barema, New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Australian Archaeology 77: 1-8.

    Torrence, R., Kelloway, S. and White, P. 2013. Stemmed tools, social interaction, and voyaging in early-mid Holocene Papua New Guinea. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 8: 278-310.

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    "Rock of Skull," from near Niagra Falls, North America
    Sebastapol Chanuhacha collection, Bangkok, Thailand

    Sebastapol is a self-described rock hound and writes: "I bought this "Rock of Skull" (so-called by the former collector, because of its actual-human-skull size and three- hole characteristic) from 70-year-old American Archaeological Professor who has kept it in his collection for over 40 years.  This masterpiece of nature, he said, was collected somewhere near the bank of river around Niagara Fall by the local Indians long time ago.  So, I believe, this rock has particular meaning to the Indians."

    To me, it looks like a possible prehistoric serendipitous find which was chipped and trimmed to realize a more idealized face mask. Found objects like this deserve a close look to determine if they have been modified in the past. This piece seems a good candidate for an example of a "one eye open, other eye shut or missing" mask sculpture in the Lower-to-middle Paleolithic European motif, with distortion to the left side of the face as is seen in most other examples.

    If the original archaeologist who collected this piece was aware of the common utilization of found natural forms as starting forms for art, and that this mask fits an already known and described motif, then he might have been able to contribute some more information about the context of this object or subject it to full petrology assessment of artificiality.

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    Limestone bear head sculpture find and interpretation by Ken Johnston, from the shores of a former glacial swamp, now Buckeye Lake, Licking County, Ohio. 

    The bear is depicted with its nose up in the air, a recognition of its powerful sense of smell. The sculpture stands upright in this position on a flat base. It was found among dozens of other iconic rocks of chert and coarse stone, suggesting an unnatural pattern created by prehistoric human activity. It was found about 1/4 mile from the find site of the Buckeye Lake Paleolithic flint sculpture hoard described on this blog in postings in May 2012.

    This is a two-headed sculpture in this view with a bear head profile looking left and a human head profile looking right. 

    The two-headed format has been traced to the Lower Paleolithic by early sculpture author Pietro Gaietto.  This "split and joined beings" concept may have persisted and may be seen in examples such as Janus and the two-headed sculpture from Roquepertuse, south France.

    The subtle human face right profile depiction 

    A culture expecting icons in certain places in relation to others probably had no trouble seeing this human face aspect of this sculpture. Even though it may seem ridiculously crude or meaningless to many, these are the expressions our ancestors left in stone and they are reproducible through many repeating examples. Close examination and consideration of all lithic materials from archaeological sites for iconic properties requires a revolution in the currently apathetic and dysfunctional approach of Archaeology toward lithics outside the already known tool taxonomies.  

    Bear head sculpture side 2, nose sniffing the air

    Close up of the selected stone removal to create the eye, nose and mouth facial features of the bear head

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    Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio

    This iconic flint was found in a figurative flint and coarse stone context, the same as the limestone bear head in the prior posting. Interpreted as a human head profile by Ken Johnston. Also found nearby was a flint feline head looking left in similar format to this human face. Perhaps this was a tool with incorporated iconic properties, or perhaps it was a child's little puppet?

    From, The Netherlands, Middle Paleolithic

    Identified as stone sculpture, male head by J. E. Musch. Rijckholt, NL. Middle Palaeolithic. Photo © Phototeam SAB. Musch, J. E. (1990b). Continuation picture book: Stone sculptures Pliocene-Neolithicum. Archaeologische Berichten 20:85-107. Elst, NL. Page 100.

    Upon close examination a tiny white pebble at this site appears modified to fully realize a human face

    Flint feline head looking left found near the human human head figure looking left seen at top. The lion head has a flaring and flattening base which looks like it was used for hafting, perhaps to the top of a staff or to a carved wood body of a lion?

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    (left) Site 23JP1222, the "Old Route 66 Zoo" in Missouri, human head profile statue found by Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber compared to (right) human form identified by amateur archaeologist Mike Raver, at Zanesville, Ohio. 

    Figure stone researcher Alan Day has dubbed this recurring human form "Stargazer" because it seems to represent a human head profile looking skyward.

    Side 2

    Possible animal head figure looking right (canine?) identified by Mike Raver in the context of other iconic finds at Zanesville, Ohio

    Mike Raver find, Zanesville, Ohio, a beautiful giant lancolate point made in the local Ohio limestone


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    Bird and horse head optical illusion figure stone, worked in jasper
    Chris Schram find, Westminster, Colorado

    This may be interpreted as a "Two headed sculpture" with two creatures joined and facing away from each other, bird to left and horse head to right.

    Polyiconic sculpture: The bird may also be interpreted as a "horse head in right 3/4 profile," looking slightly to the right, while the bird faces left. The bird's beak is the right ear of the horse icon. The "breath of life," the horse's nostrils, would be on the bird's tail as seen here. The bird's protruding tail is the muzzle of the horse figure. The horse's head image is cropped at the animal's neck, the rounded edge on the left side of the photo.

    This is the second figure stone identified by Chris which has revealed horse imagery as a part of polyiconic "optical illusion" where two icons exist simultaneously but vary depending on how one focuses visual attention on them.

    In this perspective, the bird's beak may be seen as the chin of a human "skull face," just as seen in two other figure stones presented on this blog.

    These three figure stones are from Hemet, California, Westminster, Colorado and Zanesville, Ohio, implying a broad area of geographic coverage by the cultures which practiced these art traditions.

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    Artifact find from Alan Day's registered archaeological site 33GU218, Guernsey County, Ohio. The sculpture stands upright in this position on a flat base.

    The Ohio sculpture is made on a sandstone panel while the Colorado example in the prior posting was made on jasper. Even though they appear to be unrelated objects based on their outward appearance, they are related compositions, demonstrating what may be considered a North American artistic convention where the back of bird (wing) is composed of a horse head facing opposite the bird.

    Jan van Es markup illustration on the photo shows a horse head looking to the left, with the bird-human looking to the right. This smaller horse head may be seen as one of two horse heads, where the larger head extends to the left edge of the stone and includes the image of the smaller one.

    Artifact from Kostenki I site, Don River valley Russia, ca. 40,000 years before present
    Source: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1970), pp. 129-136

    Close up of the Guernsey County, Ohio, bird's human-like head looking right to compare to artifact from Europe pictured and illustrated above.

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     Henri Valentie collection, IÎle d'Oléron, France

    H. Valentie writes: "Hello
    I appreciate your site I often viewed. I found this stone on the island of Oleron, lower paleo. On this same stone faces two heads. Stone is 1.9kg, 18.4 cm long, 11.5 cm wide, 6.7 cm deep

     Pebble masquette, Henri Valentie collection, IÎle d'Oléron, France

    The Vincenzo Tupputi collection from the east coast of Italy includes many examples of "masquettes" on pebbles like this one identified by H. Valentie.

    Pebble masquettes are also found in North America as seen in this example identified as a worked pebble face from the Mahoning River valley, Canfield, Ohio, by Allen V. Deibel. Both the Ohio and France masquettes have an exaggerated, cartoonish looking, nose.

    Henri Valentie collection, IÎle d'Oléron, France
    Lion head sculpture looking left: length 15.5 cm, width 12 cm, depth 7 cm.

    Compare Henri Valenti's identification of a lion head figure to the lion head sculpture identified by Charles Belart at Wimeraux, France.

    Bear: length 36 cm, width 13 cm, depth 4 cm.
    Carved into the limestone, bear and lion were found on the same site at the edge of sea shore

    These pieces were found on the site of the lion and bear: 1 sided lower and middle Paleo Paleo neo blade knife back Neolithic perforated shell and a human head? The head is pierced through.

    Mr Henri Valentie"

    Ken Johnston markup of the lion head profile looking left (pink eye, red mouth, natural black nose) and his interpretation of a smiling human skull facing the opposite direction. Click on the photos to expand and toggle to compare markup lines to worked stone features. The combination of feline and human imagery like this may be reflective of an ideologically significant paradox of the lion as a human predator and provider of prey in the form of carcasses and bones humans could exploit for nutrition.

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    Iconic rock outcrop discovered by Luigi Chiapparoli, at Montarsolo, Piacenza, Italy

    I was immediately impressed here by an image of a mammoth's head dome emerging from the earth with a feline perched on the mammoth's back which is a North American Paleoart motif described in portable rock art on this blog, including from site 23JP1222.

    I think it is likely this discovery made by L. Chiapparoli was a mimetolith, or a rock feature that looked like something "real" to someone in Paleolithic prehistory. The lion atop prey and lion atop mammoth and lion overlooking birds and eggs were visages of idealized imagery which were part of the visual cultures of some Paleolithic peoples. This natural feature resembling a feline on the top of a mammoth head may have been enough to prompt some shaping or further modification or treatment of this feature as symbolically meaningful. It will require study to see if any traces of human work can be found in the details.

    Mr. Chiapparoli's site has other examples of iconic outcrops which are likely examples of rock art sculpture.

    It seems possible the natural stone outcrops in the area may have significated it as a special place on the landscape and it may help explain the large numbers of portable rock art objects found at the foundations of the fixed landscape art. Perhaps these were locations for ceremonial activities as Chiapparoli has hypothesized.

    Ken Johnston illustration of the mammoth head dome and the feline in this interpretation

    Piacenza map location

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    Image Copyright (c) J.D. Shaman. Interpreted by Shaman as a human male facial profile facing right and a female facial profile facing left on the opposite side of the same stone. From Britain.

    The book by Shaman had a couple of pictures of iconic flints which reminded me of finds made by North American amateur archaeologists such as the "combination figure stone" below from the David Boies Collection. The question here for Archaeology: are the North American art similarities because of a shared art tradition with the "Old World" or an independent convergence?

    David Boies find near Austin, Texas, human facial profile looking right 

    Bird facing left

    Human facial profile looking right

    "There are people: Greg Reeder, Jan van Es, Jimmy Groen, Ken Johnston, Alan Day and Don Hitchcock who are actively involved in the study of Paleolithic art. However, there are few others if any who understand the full intricacies that British Lower Palaeolithic combination art from as far back as 400,000 years ago involves..." - J.D. Shaman

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