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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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    Credit: Musée national de Préhistoire collections - photo MNP - Ph. Jugie

    Scientists in France have discovered ancient pointillist engravings representing both a wild cow and a wooly mammoth. The engravings were made more than 35,000 years ago. Photo by R. Bourrillon

    A drawing of the engraved stone highlights the individual pixels that make up a mammoth, or auroch, facing right (R Bourrillon)

    'World's oldest images made from pixels' discovered in prehistoric French camp
    by Ian Johnston, Science reporter, The Independent.

    What could be the oldest images in the world have been discovered in France.

    And the engravings of mammoths and wild cows known as aurochs were made from individual pixels – essentially the same technique used to produce images on computers and televisions.

    The pictures are also being compared to the pointillism technique supposedly pioneered in the 1880s by artists like Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat.

    They were radiocarbon dated to 38,000 years old, which could mean they are the oldest pictures ever created.

    A painted hand silhouette found in Spain could be about 5,000 years older but its dating has been contested. An ivory sculpture of a female figure from about the same period as the French engravings was also found in southern Germany.

    Professor Randall White, a New York University anthropologist, told The Independent the images were certainly “among the very earliest images of things we can actually recognise in the entire archaeological record”.

    “It’s not so much the final effect that we found interesting, it’s the conception of it – the use of individual points to form the body or the outline of a figure,” he said.

    “If you look carefully at the aurochs, there’s really a significant control of the line.

    “And this is very early when people are really just beginning to grapple with the production of images."

    “They have mastered some of the fundamental aspects of line and shape, but there’s clearly a long way to go in terms of precise reproductions.”

    It is unclear why prehistoric artists decided to use a pointillist or pixel-based technique.

    “It’s almost digital in its nature … why this fixation on dots, I’ll admit it’s a puzzle,” Professor White said.

    “It’s not exactly pointillism but the principle is there, the construction of a form out of pixels.

    “We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists. But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”

    He said they had been excavating the site for 18 months before they found the images.

    “The engraving was face down and we knew within these sites such things are possible, so we were taking great care,” Professor White said.

    “After a year and a half of excavating, we finally extracted the object … it is one of the great moments of my career, that’s for sure.”
    The discovery was reported in the journal Quarternary International.

    Laurens County, South Carolina

    Buzzy Boles find, mammoth profile facing left with bison head profile looking right. The white stone at the far right is the 'muzzle' of the bovid. I think this may a representation of the Woodland Musk Ox because of what appears to be a symbolic 'downturned horn' visible in the middle lower edge as a curved and pointed feature of the stone.

    North America has a similar sculptural tradition of making a combination of mammoth and bison as is also observed in several well known early European art pieces.

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     Sahara desert, Morocco
    300,000 to 1.5 million years old artifact
    (click photos to expand and toggle)

    'Animated handaxe' is hundreds of thousands of years old and has faint traces of a human face on its lower right edge as seen at Archaeology of Portable Rock Art blog in many other examples.

    Please note the work traces to create a 'beetling brow' or prominent brow ridge above the eyes. This is a characteristic of the Homo erectus skull and face.

    These artifacts of Homo erectus disprove the common wisdom of the emergence of symbolism and art in a 'creative explosion' only in Homo sapiens around 40,000 years ago.

    As suggested by the Makapansgat, S.A., 'pebble of many faces' which was likely collected by Australopithecus africanus 3 million years ago, these cognitive capabilities have probably been present since the emergence of the genus Homo around 2 million years ago.

    'Makapansgat pebble of many faces'

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    Lower Paleolithic human head left profile in 'yell' motif from Île d'Oléron, France. Henri Valentie find.

    Anthropomorphic stone figures with mouths agape have been variously interpreted as yelling, laughing, crying, singing, etc.

    Mouth-like stone work treatment of the stone's natural opening

    This natural formation may have inspired the artist to make the 'yelling head' motif out of this stone

    Limestone lamp, Henri Valentie find

    I present a limestone lamp of 15/12 cm.
    The black burned part is 8.5 / 7 cm.
    The second part is a geode. The hole is natural.on a human head profile.
    The cavity of the mouth has been enlarged by the man. The opening is 4.5cm.
    The piece is 15/11 cm
    These 2 stones come from the same site (lower paleo) on the island of oleron

    The Île d'Oléron is now just off the France west coast but would have been part of the mainland at times when sea levels were lower with water locked up in glacial ice.

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    Crude human or animal face on a cobble
    The Kingpin Site, Central Georgia

    Human head left profile sculpture on a plaque, with pointy head

    'Eye' and 'mouth' work on the stone to sculpt a human face

    Curated manuport or artifact triggers basic facial recognition reflexes

    Human head with worked hair line looking to upper right. There is also work to create the eye and mouth features of the figure. Click photos to expand and toggle.

    'Stone doll' from the Kingpin Site

    Animal head facing left is interpreted here as a depiction of the head of the giant ground sloth. The animal's well-developed jaw for chewing is captured by the Ice Age artist. Only a few stone figures of the sloth have been featured on this blog and this is an extremely rare find. 

    The worked 'eye' and 'mouth' areas of the sloth depiction are highlighted

    Giant ground sloth illustration for comparison

    'Sloth slayer' from central Georgia
    Giant point is among the tools found with the iconic pieces at The Kingpin Site. We just don't know if an object like this was ceremonial or intended to be functional. Was it used as a spear tip or maybe an earth hoe? It seems suitable for hafting.

    Tools identified from the Kingpin Site in central Georgia

    A well-utilized tool from the Kingpin site

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    Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber find
    The Old Route 66 Zoo site near Joplin, Missouri

    This figure depicts a right 3/4 profile perspective feline-looking head with pointed ears along with a face which resembles a grinning human. It has two eyes, a nose and a mouth in addition to the two ears.

    Löwenmensch, a lion-headed figurine found in Germany, dating to the Upper Paleolithic of about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago

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    Edgar Lopez finds, White House, Tennessee
    My name is Edgar and I am seeking your help on some finds that I dug up while starting a garden.
    I believe I may have stumbled on some ancient American Indian artifacts. I am including a link with the pictures to this email. Please email me back if you think there is a chance that I'm correct on what these artifacts are. Or, if you have another idea of what this could be, please let me know that as well. They may just be rocks or they may be something extraordinary. I have zero expertise in this area; I am grateful if you are able to help."
    I informed Mr. Lopez based on my experience his intuition is correct and he has found a likely Paleolithic art and tool site.

    The red mark indicates the mouth of a human head right profile. The head may also include a 'hair' representation.

    The white circle indicates the face and nose of a 'bear' in right 3/4 profile. Other possible bear figures have been found by Mr. Lopez. (Click photos to expand and compare)

    To the left of the bear head is a pitted area in the stone which may have been a receptacle or work area of some kind.

    Human faces in Paleolithic art (R.D. Guthrie)

    This figure with evidence of human modification in the eye and mouth areas is compatible with human head forms as described on a gradient by R. Dale Guthrie in his book The Nature of Paleolithic Art.

    Blue marks illustrate incised lines carved on the stone face mask.

    A broken anvil stone reassembled by Mr. Lopez

    A broken block of flint reassembled

    Rhomboid and square tablet stones typical of many Paleolithic sites in the United States are seen here in situ courtesy of Mr. Lopez.

    Crude tools and utilized stones identified by Mr. Lopez

    These kinds of artifacts detected by laypersons show that a formal education in Archaeology precludes one's ability to detect materials not already assumed to be present by prior knowledge. Mr. Lopez has been told by many these are 'just rocks' but we can indeed know better.

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    Adam Arkfeld find and interpretation, Clear Brook, Virginia

    Black line illustrates the implied feline 'tail.' Circle highlights the head with open mouth which seems to have more of a human quality.

    Arkfeld notes the presence of a worked 'eye' shape to the left of the head and the Pharohnic Egypt use of the 'all seeing eye of Horus' and human and feline hybrid dieties like Sekhmet.

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    Stone bird sculpture, Sam Minot find, Bucksport, Maine 
    "hey, saw your blog and some of the photos of portable rock art and wanted to share some really good ones that we have found over the years here in Maine . One here is just like the little finch (i call it) that you have a photo of. I have one here too that (i think) is of the Great Auk, a flightless seabird that was killed off by early Europeans. and we have many (dozens and dozens) of profiles and faces,,,, we are artists ourselves, so we have become privy to the wonderful stone art in the artifacts we find everywhere here ! ~ sam minot, Bucksport, Me."  

    Silhouette of the stone bird sculpture

    'Great Auk'

    The only known historical image of a Great Auk made with the live animal as the subject. Wikipedia.

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    '3/4 left profile of human head with smile'
    Lower Palaeolithic -  UK scraper. c.350,000+ BP.

    A Clactonian /Acheulean discoidal pebble scraper. Produced on a cortex backed section of a large river pebble. Two sections on the dorsal face have been flaked towards a distal point. Ventral face with a clear bulb of percussion and one third of the circumference displays some wonderful, shallow flaking. Silver and orange ancient patina on exposed flint. Size 7cm x 7cm. Acquired by Ken Johnston from an old collection.
     Facial profile with arrow illustrating the figure's 'line of vision'

    Significant cortex or weathered rind remains on the cobble on the other side

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    'Flying foot' interpreted by Adam Arkfeld
    The Arkfeld Site, #44FK732, Clear Brook, Virginia

    The side view of the 'foot' has a distinct bird-in-flight-like form. It also resembles the NASA Space Shuttles in profile view. Based on this and vidence of toes on the foot worked to relative anatomical accuracy led Arkfeld to this astute interpretation.

    Arkfeld notes the 'flying foot' motif is seen in case of the Greek god Hermes

    View of the top of the foot shows five toes resting on a surface of a band of white quartzite. (click photos to expand) 

    Closer view of top of foot

    Toes illustrated

    View of front of the foot

    Close up view of the toes on the front of the foot

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    'Lion head left profile sculpture with perforation as eye'
    Adam Arkfeld find, Site #44FK731

    This large sculpture weighs several hundred pounds. It is made in a typical artistic template or scheme which is seen in other North American cat head sculptures and which must have been culturally facilitated. This template is seen on boulder-size pieces like this to smaller 2-5cm examples. Eye, nose, mouth, chin, ear and jaw line are depicted here.

    Cat eye

    There is a 'human face mask' carved in relief in the lower right corner of the cat head.

    Human face mask illustrated

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    'Smiling left portrait with cheeky jaw'

    Stacy Dodd and Rod Weber find, near Joplin, Missouri, 7cm

    Illustration of interpreted eye and mouth features

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    Arkfeld Site, #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia (10cm)

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    Wade Holmes find, western Montana

            Hi Ken,
    As I mentioned before, I have found many 100's of stones that are peculiar, and look like they represent many different animals. I was not aware of this sort of rock art until I began searching for stones similar to what I have found on the internet. The first style I recognized was the sleeping bird stones, then the non-sleeping birds.
    After that I began noticing that many of the stones seemed to represent elephants.
    After viewing all of the stones you have on your site I am fairly certain that I have found a large cache of these stones. Many stones are naturally shaped, but they are found with many other stones that show signs of being worked by someone, so I believe they still represent something.

    Having seen good photographs of Wade's finds, I agree that he has found a concentration of 'portable rock art' similar to that described by many other careful observers. His description of the 'sleeping bird' motif is an indicator he has detected a Paleolithic rock art site. I will be featuring some of Wade's artifacts in the coming weeks.

    Based on its find context and other examples for reference it is my contention that most if not all of the facial elements (eyes, nose, mouth, teeth) on the pebble featured here are the result of human marking rock art behaviors which have not been described by North American archaeologists.

    A competent and thorough petrological examination of examples like this can confirm human workmanship and so easily establish what must become a major new line of rock art inquiry for archaeological science.

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    United Kingdom, private collection, Lower Paleolithic

    Anthropomorphic flint nodule with similar stylized 'nose' representation

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    Henri Valenti find, Island of Oleron, France

    Hello from the island of Oleron. Bust of a man of 6/4 cm in flint found on the island. His headdress and beard are well seen in the imagery of prehistoric man.
    Best regards

    Two human face visages, one looking straight on and a profile as if looking to the right. Note the shared 'eye' element in the two figures.

    "View of profile of the bust and limestone mask naturally pierced but undergoes some retouches. On can be observed the absence of the left eye. 6cm / 4cm"

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    Human head statue
    Arkfeld Site

    Based on other examples on this blog human head renderings which are often quite lite on details sometimes have what appear to manufactured 'nostrils' of the nose as seen in this example recovered by Adam Arkfeld at his site. They seem to be an important detail which I have proposed may be adding a 'symbolic breath of life' and animation to the stone.

    View of the sculpture from the opposite side. Note the vein of quartz crystals which probably helped inspire the selection of the raw material here by the sculptor. Other examples of sculptures appear to have an unnatural 'lean' to one side, like this one appears leaning back, to the left.

    This is a depiction of the head of a human which was more robust than anatomically modern humans are today. Many examples of sculptures exist with prominent brow ridges and other robust facial features and suggest strongly they were manufactured by a Paleolithic people.

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    'Owl sculpture'
    Wade Holmes finds and collection, Western Montana

    This is classic, simple Paleolithic owl sculpture made with a minimal amount of work but invoking the essential imagery for recognition. The context of all the other figurative art from this site supports the interpretation of an intentionally sculpted owl on this obviously worked cobble.

    Summer Solstice sunset view from the Wade Homes portable rock art site

    'Feline bust in profile facing right'

    'Feline face looking straight on'

    Feline depicted with 'one eye open, other closed or missing.' Ken Johnston illustration of carved elliptical right eye and left eye made by a straight incised line.

    Wade Holmes interpretation of a worked stone resembling the head of a mammoth as if being viewed straight on. Wade's drawing provides a visual context for his interpretation. There are indeed two 'eyes' on this figure. Ken Johnston illustration of possible hand-hold on this object. Some figures like this may have been held in the hand like toys, or puppets or story-telling props. 

    A couple of mammoths with interpretations by Wade Holmes

    'Mammoth facing right with prominent tusk representation'

    Eye, tusk and trunk line illustrated by Ken Johnston

    At left is a 'sleeping water bird' sculpture and at right a 'mammoth' sculpture.  The water bird has a beautifully curved neck, its head tucked into its back feathers and has a tail and wing details. The mammoth, which is in profile facing left, may also be interpreted as a lion head facing right, where the mammoth and lion share the same 'ear' and the dark spot toward the top-middle edge is the lion's eye. Many examples of this 'mammoth/lion facing away from each other' motif have been described on this blog and it will eventually prove to be one of the great sculpture types of Paleolithic North America.

     An animal-like figure with evidence of human-directed bashing and marking

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    'Owl figure'
    Timothy Banninger find, Kansas

    There is a small face realized on the owl's face below its left eye. This face figure is worked to expose the two stone inclusions as 'eyes' with added retouch to make a nose and mouth. 

    I contend this is the face of a bird at the eye and beak of the owl. It has a fully expressed body of a bird in profile. This is a motif developed in other examples on this blog.

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     Adam Arkfeld finds, site #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia

    The Arkfeld site produces limestone and basalt art pieces in great numbers and a has also produced a smaller number of quartzite pieces. This was a significant week for quartz finds as Adam began working on a new locale at his archaeology site.

    'Water bird in flight'
    (wing on the down stroke)

    'Sitting bird'

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    Adam Arkfeld find, site #44FK731, Clear Brook, Virginia

    Note how the right eye is expressed as convex, or in bas releif, while the left eye is a large, concave excavation. This differentiates the conditions of the two eyes.

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    'Right eye open, left eye missing' is a known Paleolithic rock art motif

    Willie Woodson surface find on his property. This was found in Woodbridge VA in the lake ridge area of the county Prince William. Crude stone tools indicate an area Willie hopes to excavate on a controlled grid in the Spring. Willie identified the motif before contacting me.

    Detailed carving work to express the right eye in its socket. The left eye is a simple removal of a chip of stone to create a slight indentation. About 50% of the surface of this face has been carved by the artist. There is a gash which appears to serve as a chin cleft on the face.

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    Animal head and bird stone sculptures both in right profile view
    Arkfeld Site, Clear Brook, Virginia

    Carved human face in profilelooking left

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    Find and identification by Henri Valenti

    "Stone figure with 2 faces that meet in limestone of 14cm / 14 / cm and a biface Acheulean type of 14 cm. Found in the pyrenees towards BAGNERES of bigorre towards the 600 m of altitude. see maybe scratches on the left."