Saturday, March 25, 2017


Moab Mastodon, Photograph
by Dell Crandall.

 On November 25, 2009, I wrote a column in RockArtBlog titled Elephantids In North American Rock Art - The Moab Mastodon, in which I expressed the opinion that this famous image, usually identified as the Moab Mastodon, is actually a bear eating a large fish.

Bear eating a salmon, National
Geographic, Vol. 209(2),
February 2006, photograph
Steve Winter.

In support of this suggestion I compared it to a photograph taken by Steve Winter for National Geographic Magazine of an Alaskan brown bear eating a salmon in virtually the same pose.

Bear eating a salmon,
carved antler, Lourdes,
France, redrawn from

Another related example of the theme of a bear eating a fish found in Lourdes, France, was illustrated on page 218 in Dale Guthrie's excellent book The Nature of Paleolithic Art. A Paleolithic antler carving from Lourdes, France, shows a bear with a salmon in his mouth (Guthrie, p. 218).

Is this proof of anything, no it is not. It is circumstantial evidence only. While not bearing (really, a pun here?) directly on the question of the identification of the so-called Moab Mastodon, this carving at least helps establish that the theme of a bear eating a fish is one that had been illustrated by a primitive artist before, providing perspective on this claim for the identity of the Moab image.


Faris, Peter
2009 Elephantids In North American Rock Art, Nov. 25, 2009,

Guthrie, R. Dale
2005    The Nature of Paleolithic Art, page 208, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Winter, Steve,
2006 National Geographic, Vol. 209, No. 2

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Mammoth engraving from Abro
Cellier, France. Photo and
drawing by R. Bourrillon.

I  have commented on recent discoveries by Randall White from New York University and his team of researchers, and their discoveries in the French rock shelters Abri Blanchard, Abri Castanet, and Abri Faravel. Now another article adds Abri Cellier to the list of their discoveries of remarkably old rock art. Lorraine Boissoneault, writing in, has detailed their discoveries in her column "Prehistoric Pointillism? Long Before Seurat, Ancient Artists Chiseled Mammoths Out of Dots."

Aurochs engraving from Abri 
Blanchard, France. Photo and
 drawing by R. Bourrillon.

The same story was well covered by Laura Geggel, a senior writer for on February 24, 2017, in her article "Just Like Van Gogh: Prehistoric Artists Used Pointillist Technique."

These articles illustrate 38,000-year-old imagery carved into blocks of limestone from the above mentioned locations with animals portrayed in patterns of dots, and both authors liken these images to the "Pointillism" used by George Seurat and some other impressionist artists. One example, found in 2014 at Abri Cellier, has been identified by White and his team as a wooly mammoth, and another from Abri Blanchard as an aurochs.

Sketch for Sunday Afternoon on
Grande-jatte, Georges Seurat.
1886, Public domain.

The problem is that neither of these images, nor any others that they have identified have anything to do with Pointillism. As I have written elsewhere this problem occurs when non-art historians use artistic terminology without really understanding it. The Impressionism movement of the late 1800s was essentially motivated by an attempt to reproduce the effect of light on the surface of the subject, relying on the eye to mix areas of color to form the bright, colorful image. As an offshoot of Impressionism, Pointillism was also driven by the goal of providing areas of pure color and pigment which were then mixed in the viewers eye to provide the other hues. In basic Impressionism the colors were applied loosely to the surface of the canvas (thus, an area intended to be green might include yellow and blue and rely on visual mixing) , while in its purest form, Pointillism, they were patterned much more regularly leading to a painted surface that consisted essentially of ordered dots of pure color. These artists were aiming for the same effect that we perceive today when we view a color half-tone picture in a book or magazine, or now on the television screen.

Pointillist color wheel.

The color wheel above illustrates this in the orange, green, and purple secondary colors. They are composed of mixed dots of the primary colors red (magenta), blue (cyan), and yellow.

                   Georges Seurat, 1886.
                        Public domain.

I am certainly not disputing any aspect of the discoveries of Paleolithic imagery composed of dot patterns, I am only addressing the misuse of the term Pointillism as a description of those dots. While I cannot determine what the Paleolithic artists were attempting to do with their patterns of dots, it cannot by definition, be anything related to Pointillism. Lacking color, an image constructed by a pattern of dots might be likened to the black-and-white half-tone pictures in our books and magazines, or on an old black-and-white television. I do not personally think that even this is, however, an accurate representation. Half-tone reproduction essentially required the invention of photography before it was conceived, and I am not a believer in the Paleolithic camera obscura. Indeed, while I am vastly impressed by the many sophisticated effects and images produced by these artists, I cannot credit these dot-covered images with being attempts at half-tone reproductions of the animal. 

What do the animal images comprised of dots actually imply? I do not know. But I am very confident that I know what they are not.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.



Saturday, March 11, 2017


The team of researchers with the
hole-in-the-rock. Photograph:

A recent story by Rossella Lorenzi, in written on January 5, 2017, and titled "Ancient Stonehenge-Like 'Calendar Rock' Aligns With Winter Solstice" documented a large boulder with a hole carved through it that the people involved have identified as a Solstice Marker.

        "Featuring a 3.2-foot diameter hole, the rock formations marked the beginning of winter some 5,000 years ago. The holed Neolithic rock was discovered on November 30, 2016, on a hill near a prehistoric necropolis six miles from Gela, on the southern coast of Sicily - - - -.
        It appeared clear to me that we were dealing with a deliberate, man-made hole," archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina told Seeker. "However, we needed the necessary empirical evidence to prove the stone was used as a prehistoric calendar to measure the seasons." (Lorenzi 2017)

View of solstice sunrise through
hole-in-the-rock. Photoraph:
Giuseppe La Spina, ttps://tallbloke.files.

It appears, however, from the photographs and the evidence provided, that this hole is the only feature, the article gives no indication of a sighting point that would prove an alignment. I have always had a problem accepting as a "precision" marker something with only one reference point. If you are viewing the sun through a hole, you can move around until you find the point where it can be seen as fitting perfectly, you have many degrees of freedom in a visual cone of reference. With two reference points, such as a hole and, say, a pointed rock, you can instantly see if they are properly aligned or not, like gun sights.

This discovery marks something to be sure, but I am not convinced it is proven to be a solstice marker. Interesting, and perhaps exciting possibilities, but not proven.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images were not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on this report you should read the original at the site listed below.


Lorenzi, Rossella,
2017 Ancient Stonehenge-Like 'Calendar Rock' Aligns With Winter Solstice, January 5, 2017,

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Painted block of stone from Abri
Castanet, figures in red and black
pigment are identified as animals.
Sciencedaily photograph by
Raphaelle Bourillon.

On Saturday, February 11, 2017, I posted about the announcement of a date of 38,000 B.P. confirmation for an engraved block of stone from Abri Blanchard, in France. Now, a Science Daily report confirms another 38,000 year-old date for rock art from nearby Abri Castanet. These come from the Aurignacian culture of 43,000 to 30,000 B.P. (

Like the previous report of 38,000-year-old art from Abri Blanchard, the team which made the discovery at Abri Castanet was led by Randall White of New York University. They are collapsed rock shelters "once inhabited by some of Europe’s first modern humans. Abri Blanchard and its neighbor to the south, Abri Castanet, sit along a cliff face in the Castel Merle Valley, just beyond the quiet, 190-person commune of Sergeac. Abri Blanchard, perched to the left, and Castanet, to its right, once housed extended families who congregated here in the winter." (

Examples of art from two, essentially adjacent, rock shelters, dated to the same age, suggest that they might have been done by the same group of people. "'Early Aurignacian humans functioned, more or less, like humans today,' explained New York University anthropology professor Randall White, one of the study's co-authors. 'They had relatively complex social identities communicated through personal ornamentation, and they practiced sculpture and graphic arts.'" (

"In 2007, the team discovered an engraved block of limestone in what had been a rock shelter occupied by a group of Aurignacian reindeer hunters. Subsequent geological analysis revealed (that) the ceiling had been about two meters above the floor on which the Aurignacians lived - within arms' reach. Using carbon dating, the researchers determined that both the engraved ceiling, which includes depictions of animals and geometric forms, and the other artifacts found on the living surface below were approximately 37,000 years old." (

You can see the complete story at Another exciting discovery, it pays to keep looking.