Saturday, July 29, 2017


 Russian stone circle purported to
be a sundial/moondial.

LiveScience article by Stephanie Pappas, dated October 15, 2014, announced the discovery of a combination Sundial/Moondial carved into a rock found in 1991 near Rostov, Russia. It has been provisionally dated to the Bronze Age. Found in the grave of a man who died in his 50s it is marked with round holes arranged in a circle.

"The slab is marked with round divots arranged in a circle, and an astronomical analysis suggests that these markings coincide with heavenly events, including sunrises and moonrises." (Pappas 2014) The astronomical analysis was done by researcher Larisa Vodolazhskaya of the Archaeoastronimical Research Center at Russia's Southern Federal University.
Pappas's article describes this discovery in light of a similar one found in the Ukraine, but unfortunately the descriptions are somewhat confused an which discovery fits which description is pretty difficult to determine. Perhaps they were assumed to be similar.

The circle of holes is described as being 0.9' (feet) in diameter. Once the researchers had decided that it marked sunrise/moonrise alignments they approached it as if it were a piece of astronomical equipment that could be used to predict events, or even carry out "research." (Seeker 2014)

As I listed in the headline for this posting I am very skeptical about these conclusions for a number of reasons. First; there is no information provided about how the original position of the rock slab was determined. Without such data it would not be possible to determine any alignments at all.
Second; the holes are anything but precise, they are not the same size or even perfect circles. Were they assuming the sight line runs from an edge of each dot, or the center of each dot, or from this edge to that center? If it were an edge the holes would have to be exactly the same to make alignments reliable.
Third; the diameter of the arrangement was given as about 9/10 of a foot. This small diameter means that there is much too short a sight-line to determine such precise data.
Fourth; the holes do not make a circle but are more oval in arrangement. Again, a considerable lack of precision makes any reliable results doubtful. These reasons illustrate why I am so skeptical about the circles of dots being useful as astronomical equipment.

So what could it have been used for? I am much more comfortable considering it to be a game or counting board for a number of reasons. Any game that involved moving markers could have been played and my criticisms such as size and shapes of holes, small diameter, and oval outline would not affect a game at all. Indeed, the small diameter would make it easier to use as a game board. And for counting, the user could move a pebble from hole to hole to indicate numbers of whatever is considered significant. So until better information comes along, I am in the thumbs-down column as to this discovery representing significant astronomical knowledge by these ancient people.


Pappas, Stephanie,
2014 Illuminating! Ancient Slab May Be Sundial-Moondial, LiveScience.


Paleolithic slate engravings,
Hunsruck, Germany.
Public domain.

A recent paper on reported the discovery of the first large-scale paleolithic art in Germany. Originally discovered in 2010, the engravings were found on a rock face in the mountainous Hunsruck area.
The engraving shows a group of three horses and one other unidentified animal deeply carved into the surface of a large slate boulder.

Close-up of Paleolithic slate
engravings, Hunsruck,
Germany. Public domain.

A number of experts, including Paul Bahn in 2013, have authenticated the find and attribute it to the paleolithic period. Other examples of open-air paleolithic art have also been attributed in France and Spain, but this is Germany's lone example so far.

Drawing of the Paleolithic slate
engravings, Hunsruck,
Germany. Public domain.

This boulder is located in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, near the village of Gondershausen. The slate deposits in this area have long been mined and are famous for fossils recovered. Analysis of the images has discovered that at least three periods of engraving were undertaken, with the deep lines of the animal engravings coming first. Lighter lines, added later, are hard to decipher with portions obscured by lichen growth, and weathering.

Hopefully other examples of large-scale paleolithic art will be discovered there to add to our knowledge of the people of that time and place.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet in 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, July 22, 2017


Bust of Francois de Belleforest,
Wikipedia. Public domain.

On July 1, 2017, I published an article that I called NIAUX CAVERN - AN EARLY VISITOR'S GRAFFITI, in which I wrote about Ruben de la Vialle who visited Niaux and left his name and the year 1660 on the wall.

Another early visitor to a painted cave in France was the French writer Francois de Belleforest who wrote about Rouffignac and mentioned the "paintings" he found within, in 1575.

Map of Rouffignac cave,
entrance at lower right.

"The original entrance is still wide open today. It was a popular place to explore, particularly in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, as we can see from the numerous inscriptions on the walls. There are names and dates that cover four centuries. No one in those days knew about the existence of Paleolithic culture, so it is understandable that the art was ignored, even though some drawings were quite visible. In fact, as early as 1575, Francois de Belle-Forest wrote about the wonders of this cave and mentioned the 'paintings,' adding that he thought the place to be one of idolatry, possibly with sacrificial rituals dedicated to Venus or some other 'infernal' pagan deity. His interesting manuscript provides supplementary evidence for authentication of the art. Indeed, as prehistoric art was unheard of until the mid-1800s at the very earliest, no fake 'prehistoric' depictions could have been done before then, certainly not in 1575." (Rothenberg 2011:98-9)

Mammoth and ibexes, Rouffignac.
Public Domain.

Close-up of mammoth and ibexes, 
Rouffignac. Public Domain.

I am unable, obviously, to determine exactly which paintings Belleforest might have seen (although I assume they were the ones nearest the entrance). Rouffignac is, however, called the "Cave of 100 Mammoths" for its large number of portrayals of that creature, so perhaps he saw mammoths.

Mammoth frieze, Rouffignac.
Public Domain.

Rouffignac is decorated with 158 mammoths, 28 bisons, 15 horses, 12 capricorns (ibexes), and 10 wooly rhinoceros. Seventy-eight percent of all the animals depicted are mammoths. (Wikipedia) We must regret that Belleforest did not delineate further what he saw, to allow us to identify the specific images, but we should certainly celebrate him as an early visitor to a cave art site.

NOTE: The images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet with a search for Public Domain images. If they were used inappropriately and are not intended to be Public Domain I apologize to the owner of the picture's rights. If this is the case please inform me.


Rothenberg, David,
2011 Survival of the Beautiful, Art, Science, and Evolution, Bloomsbury Press, New York.


Saturday, July 15, 2017


Azilian painted pebble,
Wikipedia. Public Domain.

It has long been believed that the great Ice Age art of Europe disappeared with the decline of the Magdalenian culture about 12,000 BCE. The following culture in that area has been named the Azilian culture, and the main art practice associated with Azilian has been decorated pebbles.

"The Azilian is a name given by archaeologists to an industry of the Epipaleolithic in northern Spain and southern France.
It probably dates to the period of - around 12,000 years ago - and followed the Magdalenian culture. Archaeologists think the Azilian represents the tail end of the Magdalenian as the warming climate brought about changes in human behaviour in the area. The effects of melting ice sheets would have diminished the food supply and probably impoverished the previously well-fed Magdalenian manufacturers. As a result, Azilian tools and art were cruder and less expansive than their Ice Age predecessors - or simply different.
Diagnostic artifacts from the culture include Azilian points (microliths with rounded retouched backs), crude flat bone harpoons and pebbles with abstract decoration. The latter were first found in the River Arize at the type-site for the culture, Le Mas-d'Azil in the French Pyrenees." (Wikipedia)

Large numbers of the painted pebbles mentioned above have been recovered from Azilian sites, and this has long been assumed to represent their total artistic output.

"Azilian pebbles carry simple designs coloured and/or decorated with paint made from red ochre (iron peroxide), applied from the creator's fingers. Dots, borders and bands of colour, zig-zags, ovals and dashes are featured. About 1400 pebbles like these were found at Le Mas-d'Azil, southwestern France." (Wikipedia)

Engraved aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France., Public Domain.

Drawing of aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France., Public Domain.

A recent publication online on Plosone (, March 3, 2017) by a team of French researchers led by Nicolas Naudinot described a group of 45 schist placques recovered at Le Rocher del'Imperatrice described sophisticated realistic engravings that open up a whole new area of understanding of the art of this important period of history.

"The development of the Azilian in Western Europe 14,000 years ago is considered a 'revolution' in Upper Paleolithic Archaeology. One of the main elements of this rapid social restructuring is the abandonment of naturalistic figurative art on portable pieces or on cave walls in the Magdalenian in favor of abstract expression on small pebbles.
Recent work shows that the transformation of human societies between the Magdalenian and the Azilian was more gradual. The discovery of a new Early Azilian site with decorated stones in France supports this hypothesis. While major changes in stone tool technology between the Magdalenian and Azilian clearly mark important adaptive changes, the discovery of 45 engraved schist tablets from archaeological layers at Le Rocher de l'Iperatrice attests to iconogaphic continuity together with special valorization of aurochs as shown by a 'shining' bull depiction." (Naudinot 2017)

Realistic, larger-scale depictions of aurochs and horses provide evidence that cultural and religious beliefs had not totally abandoned the fascination in large animals found in previous cultures, and suggest that the evolution of these beliefs and mythology moved more slowly, lagging behind the evolution of tools to fit the new conditions the people lived in.

Engraved aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France., Public Domain.

Drawing of aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France., Public Domain.

A depiction on one schist plaque of an aurochs seems to be accentuated by an aura or rays around its head. "One side bears a special composition of a bull's head in left profile surrounded by deep rays that create a highlighting visual effect. No equivalent 'shining animal' could be found in the European Paleolithic iconography. The technological study of this piece shows an intentional organization of gestures in order to point up the central place of the aurochs. The rays were engraved after the animal. But to place the aurochs at the forefront, the horns have been accentuated by a new series of engraving in the same grooves, occurring in the areas where the rays and the horns intersect." (Naudinot 2017)

This type of symbolic representation may be later traced to the portrayal of halos on holy images in medieval and renaissance art and may point to the origin of a symbol utilized and understood down to the present. In other words, it is possible that this represents the earliest known example of a symbol that has lasted for ca. 14,000 years, an important discovery to be sure.

NOTE: The images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet with a search for Public Domain images. If they were used inappropriately and are not intended to be Public Domain I apologize to the owner of the picture's rights. If this is the case please inform me.

Naudinot, et al,
2017 Divergence in the Evolution of Paleolithic Symbolic and Technological Systems: the Shining Bull and Engraved tablets of Rocher de L'Imperatrice,


Saturday, July 8, 2017


Pushing The Boundaries,
Front Cover

This volume is another rock art publication of the Oregon Archaeological Society (OAS), their 24th book, a remarkable contribution for such a group. This particular book covers a region in southeastern Oregon known as the Harney Basin, centered a couple of hundred miles south of Pendleton, and a transitional area between the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin. Pushing the Boundaries: The Pictographs Petroglyphs of Oregon's Harney Basin, written by Don Hann and Daniel Leen adds a little-known area to the record, and covers this important region in great detail.

Harney Basin, Oregon. Photo:
used with permission of OAS.

Map of Harney Basin, Oregon.

As with other volumes published by the Oregon Archaeological Society this book is seriously scholarly, boasting 14 pages of references out of a 107 page total.

Harney Basin pictograph sites.
Photo: used with permission
of OAS.

The website of the OAS describes the volume with this statement:
"Archaeologists Daniel Leen and Don Hann have joined forces to create this interesting and scientifically important volume on the rock art of the Harney Basin in southeastern Oregon. Sitting at the cultural boundary between the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin, the pictographs and petroglyphs of the Harney Basin have long captured the interests of both professional and avocational archaeologists. Hann, a U.S. Forest service Archaeologist and Leen, a well known archaeologist and artist, describe the major sites in detail, interpret the imagery, and explain that the ancient drawings and carvings are likely the work of groups from both the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin who used the Harney Basin throughout at least the last 5,000 years.
Fortunately, Leen, one of the premier rock art recorders in the Pacific Northwest, spent two summers in the early 1980s carefully recording more than 40 Harney Basin sites. Hann's knowledge of Blue Mountains/Harney Basin prehistory, coupled with Leen's excellent tracings have produced a volume that will quickly become a classic for any student of western North American rock art." (

Figure 6, 35HA1372, panel4, p. 22.
Photo: used with permission of OAS.

The finely detailed black and white drawings by  that illustrate this volume are gems in their own right, although they are generally reproduced in small scale. Their detail and clarity make me hungry to see the full-scale originals. A considerable amount of information about the people who created the rock art is provided as well.

Plate 1, Harney Basin, Site 24,
Rattlesnake Rim. Photo: used
with permission of OAS.

"The people living in Harney Basin bay have included members of both Columbia Plateau and Great Basin ethnic groups tied together through bonds of marriage and trade. (Rhode 2012:4-10)" (p.81)
"The Great Basin group which inhabited Harney Basin in the early historic period was the Northern Paiute - Several distinct bands of the Northern Paiute lived here including the Wadatika, Hunipuitoka (Walpapi), and Koa'aga'itoka." (p.6)
"Plateau tribes that lived adjacent to Harney Basin in the southern Blue Mountains include the Western Columbia River Sahaptins (also known as the John Day Band, the Dock-Spus or erroneously the Tenino), Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Nez Perce Indians." (p. 7) 

Plate 2, Harney Basin, Site 24,
Rattlesnake Rim. Photo: used
with permission of OAS.

The authors found a cultural association with these groups and the style of the rock art as well as the media it was produced in.
"Harney Basin petroglyphs show clear affiliation with the Great Basin but local variation in design elements demonstrates influence from the Columbia Plateau." (p. 79)
"Harney Basin pictographs are associated with the Columbia Plateau. They fit clearly into Keyser's (1992:83) North Oregon Rectilinear Style." (p. 79)

To me, the striking quality of this book is that the authors present a detailed, scientific record and analysis of the rock art of the region without falling into the trap of trying to fit the material into any current fad espoused by pop rock art analysts. I think I only counted the "s-word" (shaman) once in the whole volume, and did not notice the word "neuropsychological" at all. This book definitely belongs in the library of any serious student of North American rock art.
Five star approval rating.

To purchase a copy of this, or any other of their excellent books, simply visit

8.5” x 11” 107 pages, 100 illustrations, two pages of color plates
ISBN #: 978-0-9915200-2-2 OAS Publication: #24. Price $15.00 plus $4.00 Shipping and Handling.


Hann, Don, & Daniel Leen
2017 Pushing the Boundaries: The Pictographs Petroglyphs of Oregon's Harney Basin, Oregon Archaeological Society Publication #24 ,

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Bison, Niaux, Black Salon,
Wikipedia. Public domain.

The urge to leave graffiti on a rock art site is not just a modern phenomenon. According to the book The Cave and the Cathedral by Amir Aczel, a visitor to Niaux cavern in 1660 left his name on the wall in the Black Salon where he saw the rock art left by Paleolithic artists. I found the account really provoked my imagination as I pictured this gentleman making his way through the cave in the 1600s. Ruben de la Vialle had to have used a flame to light his way, much like the original creators of the art, not the electric lamps used by modern visitors. Aczel described it in his book The Cave and the Cathedral (see below).

Ruben de la Vialle,1660 signature,
Public domain.

"In 1660, a visitor named Ruben de la Vialle carved his name and the date all the way inside the Black Salon, half a mile deep inside this cavern (Niaux), right next to the drawings of the animals. Did de la Vialle realize how ancient the drawings were? We do not know, and there is no evidence that anyone else had penetrated the cave to this depth. De la Vialle must have lighted his way in with fire, using a candle or a torch not much different from the kind Paleolithic artists who decorated this cave had used.
Navigating this complicated underground network of cavities - which continues for six more miles underground in a part of the cave very rarely visited today, called the Castres Network - must have been a daunting task. And it was dangerous. We know that people have died when they got lost inside some of these deep caverns.
But somehow, Ruben de la Vialle made it alone all the way in. He saw this great art, and he made it back out of the cave. His footsteps have been found in the cave, showing his way in and out. There are also footsteps of the Paleolithic people who made the art and those of ancient visitors who entered the cave still in the Ice Age, a couple of thousand years after the artists had left. These Ice Age visitors were two women and two young children, as revealed by an analysis of their footsteps. They, too, made it all the way to the Black Salon. We know this because the cave environment was undisturbed by wind or fire or much geological erosion, and therefore ancient footsteps inside remained intact for millennia.
Once de la Vialle had left the cave of Niaux in 1660, the beautiful drawings of the Black Salon were not to be seen again for almost 250 years. The artists clearly aimed - and succeeded - at hiding their drawings well.
On September 21, 1906, the Paleolithic treasure hidden in the depth of Niaux was rediscovered. That day, two young brothers, Paul and Jules Molard, were hiking in the woods with their father, known only as Captain Molard, in the rural region of the lower central Pyrenees." (Aczel 2009:10-11)

Ibex, Niaux cave, Black Salon, Public

Niaux, Black Salon,, 
Public domain.

Unfortunately, we have no record of what de la Vialle thought of the masterpieces of Paleolithic art that he found there. One can only imagine his thoughts on the subject, but it is something to contemplate.

Note: Images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet by a search that included the phrase "Public domain." If any of these images were located mistakenly please accept my apology, and inform me so I can give proper credit.


Aczel, Amir D.
2009 The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.