Straight Lines: Selected Reviews
by Richard D. Flavin
“Give me one good reason why I should memorize these lines.”
Engraved bone and quartz tool from the Congo, c. 9000 BCE.
reading an article in Scientific
American about a notched Mesolithic bone tool from the Congo,
Marshack (then a feature writer with no significant academic
published in 1964 a paradigm hypothesis which suggested the bone tool
engraved with a record of lunar observations. [1, 2]
Soon afterwards, other examples of Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic
items with various series of straight lines (which had been previously
regarded as decorative) were offered as perhaps being notational in
 The suggestion of lunar calendars hypothetically imparted
and numbering abilities to our stone-age ancestors and pushed further
the popular perception of Ice Age cave-folks as grunting brutes with
or no intelligence. The suggestion continues to be improved upon,
is often incorporated into models of Upper Paleolithic existence (along
with diet, clothes, housing, art, and recently a proposal for coastal
technology), but is it true? Those straight lines previously
as decorative might be notational, some probably are, but proving it is
another matter. Marshack has made a remarkable and most
contribution. Now, it’s up to us to push the problem along.
What do we really know about ancient straight lines?
Engraved bone from the French Acheulean period, c. 200,000 BCE.
An engraved ox rib was discovered during the 1967-1968 excavation season at Pech de l’ Azé and dated to c. 200,000 BCE.  The engraving, according to François Bordes (1919-1981; the archaeologist in charge of the excavation), consists of a "series of lines and incisions which are clearly intentional, not the random lines left by a flint cutting off the meat.” [5, 6] It wasn't engraved by people like us, but rather by an earlier form of our species. The relationship of the engraved ox rib from the Upper Paleolithic site of Pech de l’Azé with Ice Age and later straight lines seems limited to a demonstration of ability and accomplishment. Some opine that the layer which contained the ox rib properly belongs to the Mousterian period, which requires a shifting of accomplishment from archaic humans (Homo sapiens) to the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). Modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) didn’t enter Europe until the Neanderthals were on their way out and archaic humans had been gone a very, very long time. Any claims of traditions or traits and those early dates regarding straight lines are laughable, but ability and accomplishment remain a point of primitive pride. Apparently the engraving of straight lines goes back, way back.
With the initial dispersals of modern humans from Africa c. 100,000 BCE, the approximate beginnings of language and art may be imagined (Though an ability for both language and art may be considered for earlier hominans; see ‘Update - 3/9/08' below). [7, 8] By 50,000 BCE modern humans had spread out across the globe, probably utilized a limited maritime technology to settle Australia and perhaps the New World, and shortly afterwards many examples of portable and parietal rock art begin to appear. Critical interpretations of these early examples of art are as problematic, debatable, and as opinionated as views overheard after any contemporary gallery opening (without, of course, comments about wine and cheese). Early art is often complex and attests to the ability and accomplishments of modern humans.  Representational art is easier to discuss than the non-representational, such as those examples which consist of straight lines, dots and holes, or abstract designs. Such interpretations of early art are abundant. Freud may have had difficulty differentiating between a cigar and a penis symbol, but it’s nothing compared to how some have interpreted the straight lines of early art. Everyone’s a critic and everyone has an answer.
remains of Upper Paleolithic mammoth
bone houses (c. 18,000 BCE) have been rightly famous since initial
of their discovery in the 1920s.  From the Russian
and across to Poland, mammoth bones served in the late Ice Age as a
alternative to wood, stone or clay. Local material usage aside,
engraved statuary from the Ukraine share basic construction and
with similar artifacts throughout Europe of that time and later. 
One such example, an ivory female figurine from Mezherich, is engraved
with a series of straight lines which may have been meant to depict a
vulva (perhaps re-engraved a few times), and other straight lines which
may represent a simple stick figure with head and arms. Debates
why the figurine was made and how it was used (if re-engraved it could
indicate multiple uses) are to be expected. What is surprising is
that some believe the figurine is engraved with alphabetic
Yes, that’s right; an alphabet from 20,000 years ago!
Engraved ivory figurine from the Ukraine, c. 17,000-14,000 BCE.
from a poorly printed photograph
of the Mezherich ivory figurine, Michel-Gerald Boutet believes he has
engraved straight lines which he’s transcribed, transliterated, and
as “Queen of the Aryans.”  Boutet managed to
a publisher, it sold fairly well, and too many continue to support his
claims of an Upper Paleolithic script (though individual motivations
multitudinous) without being critical of basic problems. I know
of Boutet’s supporters personally, or rather, those that have read his
material and voice approval for almost any claim of the possibility of
prehistoric scripts. Foolishness can account for much, but not
(see Fell's Windmill Hill "ogam consaine" claim below).
Parietal art from the French Dordogne region, c. 15,000 BCE.
Modern interpretations of early art will probably remain just that, modern interpretations. Unless extraordinary supporting evidence becomes available. Though, sometimes unproved and fantastic claims of ancient accomplishment can be educational and entertaining. Dr. Michael A. Rappenglueck (Kult–ur-institut für interdisziplinäre Kulturforschung e.V. > Mathematisches Institut, Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München > “independent, somewhat maverick researcher") recently presented a tempting match between some Upper Paleolithic paint dots and later numerical representations of the seven stars of the Pleiades.  Okay, seven dots equals seven stars and this was the intent of the cave artist. Makes the heart beat fast, doesn’t it? As Rappenglueck continues and suggests certain cave art animal representations are constellations and his new software can prove it, the heart resumes its normal beat and mundane cadence. Upper Paleolithic constellations? Did Jean Auel start way too late?
Given sufficient fair weather and inspired need, many ancient cultures developed star lore which often utilized constellation images as mnemonic and narrative devices. Travel and navigation, whether for hunting, fishing, or trade, necessitates awareness of seasonal patterns and many ancient cultures devised wondrous and productive systems (some of which continue in use). Upper Paleolithic representations of seasonal patterns have been advanced in a number of cases before, as in the bone knife from La Vache - Ariège; Magdalenian VI, c. 12,000 BCE, with engravings of plants and animals associated with spring on one side and those of autumn on the other. [14, 15] Naturalistic depictions were probably used in ritual art, magic and celebration, and though I don’t doubt Ice Age folks had fair weather (towards the end, at least) and made engraved and pecked tallies on stone and bone which might represent limited solar and lunar notations (read: calendars), the leap of faith to believing that abstract constellation imaging was necessary and developed deep underground, far from the night sky, is one I cannot make.
A comment by Rappenglueck that his interpretation of cave art animal representations as constellations might help in explaining the peopling of the New World seems an invitation to disaster. The ongoing efforts by Dr. Dennis Stanford to connect the Old World Solutreans to the New World Clovis culture is a fascinating exercise in critical investigation. Two approaches are under consideration: a northern route tracking the coastal ice-shelf and a route directly across (perhaps following an ocean current). Stanford lectures that possible seasonal (read: hunting) images, from sites he believes would have been coastal during the Ice Age, suggest migratory animals may be depicted and some of those animals could have been tracked to an ancient current. I fail to see how a constellation-as-animal tradition would be necessary for either of Stanford’s routes and hope Rappenglueck isn’t just warming up for a career in fantastic claims. Btw, Stanford’s work has been challenged  and some even debate if Stanford should be credited with being first with proposing a Solutrean and Clovis connection.
Rappenglueck recently announced his discernment
of the stars of the constellation Orion on a carved piece of mammoth
which has been dated to c. 38,000 - 32,500 BCE. And major news
reported the claim. I still don’t know whether I should laugh or
Portable art from Germany, c. 38,000-32,500 BCE.
Remember The Orion Mystery?  Bauval now lectures alongside the infamous ex-neo-Nazi, Frank “Joseph” Collin, as well as the Hare Krishna and anti-science author, Michael Cremo. Oh, and he runs a vacation travel and tour company. His co-author, Adrian Gilbert remains equally whack. Extraterrestrials gave early man astral wisdom, it survived in the layout of the pyramids and the writings of Plato, but was then forgotten. Gullibility travels. And, for only the cost of a burger and a beer, one can read all about it. Elvis didn’t leave the building; aliens took him.
Skinny time: there’s “Orion,” the great hunter from Greek mythology and the easily recognizable bright stars which make up the constellation of the same name. The rub? People at different times “saw” different images when they connected the (dots) stars. The three stars which form the so-called “belt” of Orion are recorded in various traditions (and, of course, as various things).  A male figure is not uncommon, but placed alongside of other constellation traditions, it becomes one interpretation among many. So, there are three factors: a male figure, a Greek mythological hero, and three bright stars which are variously interpreted as representing different things, i.e. a belt, fishermen, a turtle, etc. Ah, Orion!
Egyptian decan system and diagonal
calendars first appear with inscribed sarcophagus lids, c. 2100-1800
and mention a warrior constellation named Sahu (see
of Senenmut’s tomb [var. Senmut]
with the three prominent stars today regarded as comprising Orion’s
A cuneiform text from Nippur (HS 245; Hilprecht-Sammlung, Jena),
dated c. 1300-1000 BCE, contains the name, SIBA.AN.NA [var. SIBA.ZI.AN.NA],
an Assyrian constellation ("True Shepard of the Sky") equated with
though the name goes back to Old Babylonian times, c. 1830-1530 BCE. 
Senenmut's tomb, c. 1500 BCE. Orion, the constellation.
Homer and Hesiod describe Orion as both hunter and constellation. Dr. E. C. Krupp (Director of the Griffith Observatory in L.A.) admits the unknown etymology of “Orion,” quotes a nineteenth century opinion that the Greek name could have been inspired by the Akkadian title URU.ANNA or “Light of Heaven,” and guesses a possible relationship with the Greek word for “warrior.”  The Greek Arion [var. Areion], or “warrior,” also figures into mythology as separate characters (a poet and a horse), were mentioned by Homer and Hesiod as distinct from Orion, and any etymological association with Orion would seem too much of a stretch. Ditto with comparisons of Orion and the Canaanite hero, Aqhat, known from Ugaritic and Hittite accounts.  Name games can be more confusing than connecting the dots or counting straight lines. R. H. Allen, the author of Star-Names and Their Meanings, a standard (though outdated) text on constellations, finds a hero-motif for Orion in many traditions and even repeats a previous translation of Kesil (Isaiah 13:10) as “the Orions.” [22, 23] Well, so does Strong's (#3685), but The Jewish Encyclopedia is content to offer “Fool” as a likely translation. And it would be foolish, indeed, to pursue an Upper Paleolithic Orion, as Rappenglueck does. What do I think is represented? A hunter constellation on one side and a pregnancy calendar on the other? Nope. I’d guess there’s a human back represented on one side and the notches on the other are designed to make the scratching of a back easier. One foolish guess should be as good as any other.
II. “It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting...”
As Marshack’s hypothesis of Upper Paleolithic lunar calendars inspired others to approach the question of early human cognitive abilities with a greater sense of possibilities, likewise some exceptionally foolish claims have motivated some to boldly go where they shouldn't have. Prof. Howard Barraclough "Barry" Fell (marine biology, Harvard) made hundreds of claims not related to his field in books and articles published between 1973 and his passing in 1994 (many of which are regarded as fantastic and improbable), however a 1982 claim of his is noteworthy in that it has inspired an international industry of sorts.
fond of “deciphering” straight
lines as "ogam consaine," a hypothetical abbreviatory method of
oghams in which only consonants are used. The expression has only
a single attestation (as chonsainidhe or consonanted),
some believe was mistranscribed in a dictionary entry (as consaine
or consonantal).  While examples exist of what appear
to be vowelless oghams as abbreviations, debate continues as to whether
these are magical, mistakes, or tallies, and no accepted argument has
put forth that this was a well known system within oghamic traditions.
Brave Lad Fear
Thought to have been invented c.1700 BCE, in or near Sinai, the acrophonic alphabet became codified (or ordered) at some point before its adaptation as a cuneiform script at Ugarit, 1400 through 1200 BCE.  The letter-order remained little changed as the alphabet was later used by the post-Ugarit Canaanite Phoenicians, followed by the Hebrews, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Arabs, and on out across the world. Though the alphabet diffused to far away places, in many cases some semblance of the original letter-order may still be found, and it's not difficult to trace the development of individual letter-forms (e.g., from South Semitic and Aramaic to Bramhi and Kharoshti, to Malay scripts and their influence on the problematic Philippine alphabet). The letter-order of the alphabet has had amazing staying power, with the notable exceptions of two early European writing systems: Norse runes and the Irish oghams. Runeforms follow a different letter-order, but their physical shapes show a clear relationship to Etruscan, which tempts a date of invention c.300-200 BCE. The oghamic scripts, however, consist of straight lines usually carved into wood or stone, defies a ready relationship with other alphabets, and continues to provoke investigators. How like the Irish!
Ogham (var. ogam) is thought to mean “skilled use of words,” was originally “a peculiar form of cryptic speech, in which, for instance, the names of letters replaced in certain syllables the letters themselves,” and a term for the entire spoken composition.  At some later point, perhaps even immediately afterwards, ogham was also used to describe an engraved inscription in oghamic script (as one pens a letter, so one would notch or cut an ogham). Both uses involve explicit occult cryptology and an implicit sense of cleverness.
Throughout the first half of the last century, R. A. S. Macalister promoted the hypothesis of a Western Greek (Chalcidian) influence on the oghamic script (via Etruscan or a related alphabet), an influence which may also have given rise to the Germanic runic futhark (the runeform alphabet, named after its first few letters). Macalister further conjectured that ogham progressed from a spoken, to a finger-language, merged with a tally-stick tradition as a monumental script, before becoming a manuscript pedantry and nearly forgotten.  No firm date of invention was ever advanced by Macalister, though with Caesar's mention that the Druids were forbidden to use writing, his hypothesis allowed for invention before the first century BCE, perhaps a few to several centuries before. Contrary to Macalister, many scholars didn’t need such an early and direct Greek influence to explain the oghamic scripts and were satisfied with a Latin derivation in late Roman times.
Fueled in part by the literary and artistic 19th century "Celtic Revival," the study of oghams was again taken up. The 1917 publication of the Auraicept na n-Éces: The Scholars’ Primer, edited and translated by George Calder, was met with critical acclaim and remains a classic for modern oghamists.  The Auraicept is a magical comedy originally written c. 650 CE (with additions over the next few centuries), and is thinly disguised as an ancient learned treatise describing a hoary and fantastic antiquity for oghams. Calder's publication of the work, with important photographs of four folio-pages from The Book of Ballymote showing 93 varieties of oghamic scripts, enabled later investigators to have a great deal of fun. But, here we split for the moment, between those amateurs and professionals who believe in a great antiquity for the oghamic scripts and those who support an invention shortly before the composition of the Auraicept. It is this extreme which still makes the casual study of oghams difficult for most.
Macalister's argument for a Western Greek influence on the development of oghamic scripts not withstanding (though oghamic scripts did acquire additional characters, the forfeda, to represent diphthongs, based on Greek letters sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries CE), scholars continued to propose a derivation from the Latin (Roman) alphabet for the origin of the oghamic scripts. Such a derivation has steadily gained in acceptance, but the 'when' is still hotly debated.
The Táin Bó Cúainge ("The Cattle-Raid of Cooley") is an Irish epic commonly believed to describe Iron Age Ireland, much like Homer's The Iliad described Achaean-era Troy.  The Táin has been dated to the early first century CE, around the time of Jesus, but many now disagree, with some claiming The Táin depicts Irish life much earlier, while others maintain the Iron Age in Ireland lasted to c.500 CE and The Táin was probably composed shortly thereafter.  There is no mention of writing in the works of Homer, a fact many have pointed out tends to impart a certain verisimilitude to Homer's "history," while The Táin does include a mention of the making of an ogham. Some believe this reference was inserted into The Táin, perhaps as late as the 12th century, and is therefor unreliable in attempting to date the origin of the oghamic scripts.
A requisite for the study of any ancient language or script is the compilation of a corpus ("main body") of extant examples. This was done by Macalister in his monumental Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, and showed that the vast bulk of extant oghams occur in Ireland, with far lesser numbers in Scotland, Wales, England, and some of the islands.  No examples of ogham were recorded as being from the continent, though many amateurs and professionals had allowed for some form of Romano-Gaulish origin. With this apparently solid information, many scholars then projected a native invention of the oghamic scripts and even went so far as to declare the script was created in the southeastern corner of Ireland.
Ebb and flow, decadence and puritanism, liberal thinking and conservative judgments, are the extremes we endure until a lasting consensus is reached. The inescapable allure of the Druids, the Celtic myths and legends, the later fabulized manuscript claims regarding the age of the oghamic scripts, were all too much for academia to resist, and they've struck back in a most surprising manner. Many scholars today now understand the oghamic scripts as a reaction to the introduction of Christianity. Those extant examples referred to above? All appear datable to after the 5-6th centuries CE. Could the oghamic scripts have arisen as a joke in the face of Christianity? Some think so.
The Christian Druids: On the filid or philosopher-poets of Ireland by John Minahane  and Ogam Stones and the Earliest Irish Christians by Catherine Swift , are two examples of contemporary works which tack away from antiquity and support a late invention of the oghamic scripts, though one does so with a smile and the other without.
The current trend to regard the oghamic scripts as a druidic farce is, I believe, a response to previous claims, and merely describes late changes and nuances, but lacks the spine to understand the necessary requirements for a script, as opposed to some rarely used secret cipher. I don't doubt that ogham changed many times and eventually survived in a Christian context. However, I have three points of challenge to such a late, Christian-era origin for the oghamic scripts:
1) One of the so-called "Ballinderry Dice," from the second century CE, has the numeral 5 represented as three straight lines or the oghamic character "bilabial," which stands for the letter f or v, and another die has V, as in the Latin numerical convention for 5. Three lines to show the number five? The "Ballinderry Dice" would seem to suggest the oghamic script (and an Irish familiarity with Latin) was well established before the 4th century introduction of Christianity. 
2) Previous claims of no ogham on the continent, though based on earnest and seemingly thorough investigations, continue to be challanged. Oghamic flourishes on Celtic engraved stones in Brittany are too late to assist with the location problem for the invention of the oghamic script. Fell’s claims of Swedish oghams and various Gaulish coins said to contain oghamic script in their decorations also offer little help. Yet, as recovery techniques and the discipline of archaeology improves, perhaps a future discovery of continental ogham awaits.
Most agree that the structural basis of the oghamic script developed from an earlier system involving the cutting of notches on wood (for tallies, divination, etc.). As wood seldom survives in the archaeological record, except under preservative conditions, it's not surprising we don't possess any examples of these early notations and possible transitions to the alphabetic oghamic scripts. The paucity of early runes is thus comparable to early oghams. 
3) I’m uncomfortable with the recent trend of some scholars to accept those sections of Josephus’ Antiquities which mention Jesus, James, and Baptist John and reject the long held understanding that those sections were likely early medieval interpolations. But, I’m satisfied that everyone agrees that extant versions of Caesar’s De bello Gallico are essentially the same as when various scribes and secretaries composed the classic military account (under Caesar’s personal direction, of course). As Rome had despised the Celtic tribes to the north for centuries, it stands to reason that Caesar’s explaining of the lack of a Celtic ethnic script (due to a profound regard for learning) was accurate, as it easily could have been bitterly dismissed by Caesar as profane and ignoble. Like the bit about the human sacrifices in wicker cages. Caesar’s reporting on druidic traditions, c. 58-51 BCE, readily allows twenty years to learn how to voice a spoken ogham, how to signal a finger-language ogham, and perhaps how to cut an ogham inscription. 
While examples of ancient and medieval ciphers and occult alphabets exist, none (that I know of) achieved the enduring (widespread?) usage of the runic and oghamic scripts. Usually the invention or introduction of an alphabetic script is an almost nationalistic affair, with slight adaptations to individual cultures and specific requirements to accommodate the needs of the language being expressed. Also, there is the matter of the teaching of the alphabet, a collection of letters (an abecedarium), and a mnemonic attached to the letter-order to facilitate learning. All such mnemonics are lost, unfortunately, and various reconstructions are simply tantamount to wiley guesswork. However, it would not be unreasonable to assume that both the runic and oghamic scripts express far different mnemonic narratives than other alphabets. 
As we await further work and possible future discoveries, we're left with the choices of the oghamic scripts as likely being either a late creation inspired by such Latin grammarians as Aelius Donatus (fl. 354 CE), or a first century invention using the divisions of the Latin alphabet as expressed by the rhetorician, Quintilian, in his Intitutio de Oratoria.  An origin coeval with runes, c. 300-200 BCE, is an unsupported hunch I favor, in that such an early date makes it easier to accommodate known developments and changes in oghamic letters, sound values, and letter-order, but a first century BCE invention wouldn’t surprise me.
Barry Fell was aware of the accepted approaches to the problem of the origin of the oghamic scripts, but offhandedly rejected over a century of sound and sincere scholarship. Working from a photocopy sent to him through the mail, of a line-drawing published almost thirty years previously, he produced a “decipherment” in “ogam consaine.”  Fell wrote of the line-drawing:
Inscribed ogam consaine amulet excavated at Windmill hill, and ascribed by British Archaeologists to the late Neolithic, ca. 2000 B.C. Bronze Age artifacts were also found. The ogam inscription, though carefully illustrated by Stuart Piggott, was not recognized as such.
which may be
as Gadelic Byanu mat, dion diom
in the same manner as above, was reported from the outer face of the
entrance orthostat of the stone chamber at Vermont where Byanu is
on the ceiling, (America B.C. Photographs on p.
Despite this, the chamber is claimed to be of Colonial age by some
 Engraved chalk artifact from Windmill Hill, c. 3500-3400 BCE.
The implications were immediately recognized by those amateurs who needed a little something (or anything) extra to further their personal agendas. And, sadly, Fell’s “decipherment” of oghamic script on a Neolithic artifact continues to enable further fantastic claims. The uncritical should be mindful that:
A. Fell often worked from material mailed to him, which he reacted to (read: "deciphered") without checking further. This seems to be a general complaint regarding his “epigraphic” work. He was an accomplished scholastic, well published, who knew the rigors of academic argument and presentation, yet with his epigraphic work Fell seldom stepped away from his desk to research an item or view it in person. Such pervasive carelessness (or, as some say, arrogance) marred his efforts and induced a negative reaction in most professionals.  Which is unfortunate, as he had some interesting ideas.
B. Interpreting straight lines engraved on a Neolithic artifact as oghamic script goes against every legitimate assessment and hypothesis as to the origin and history of the acrophonic alphabet.
C. His knowledge of the ogham language (a Celtic variant arising from *proto-Goidelic, sometimes called Primitive Irish, which preceded Old Irish and writing with Latin letters) was outdated and insufficient against critics familiar with current scholarship.
D. The date of c. 2000 BCE for the Windmill Hill engraved chalk artifact, as reported by Piggott in 1954, was challenged shortly thereafter in what has been described as the “first radiocarbon revolution.”  Another revolution took place in 1967, when a conversion chart (calibrating radiocarbon dates utilizing dendrochronology and an awareness of past fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field which affected levels of radiocarbon in the atmosphere) was first published.  Many refinements, taking in mind such techniques as thermoluminescence and varve dating, were subsequently made and adjustments continue. Fell, in 1982, seemed oblivious to the solid work which pushed the Windmill Hill engraved chalk artifact back to c. 3500-3400 BCE. Most public libraries would have been able to bring Fell up to date, yet he remained desk-bound and unaware of current science and scholarship.
Some have used Fell’s claim of Neolithic “ogam consaine” to bolster their theories of oghamic scripts in South Africa , Japan , Canada , Mexico , and elsewhere. It’s become a veritable industry and it’s only a matter of time until Fell’s claim is used to support fantasies that the alphabet originated in Atlantis or from Outer Space. Indeed, among a core-group of Fell enthusiasts, it's already happened.
To account for the global presence of petroglyphs consisting of straight lines, as well as the many examples known throughout North America, they use the term “Old People’s Script” and believe the straight lines represent ancient writings in an unknown language.  Mindful that professionals regard these straight lines as tallies, tool-sharpening marks, decorations, etc., and because of a superficial resemblance to oghams and several imperfect attempts to “read” these straight lines, believers in the “Old People’s Script” postulate (read: imagine) the existence of ancient travelers who journeyed around the world sharing their knowledge with Ireland as merely one stop among many. One member of this core-group of Fell enthusiasts has even gone as far as to argue that Neolithic travelers from central Europe brought the “Old People’s Script” to North America and, later, the descendants of those travelers and Native Americans introduced oghams to Ireland. Such amateur theories may best be compared with Six Degrees of Separation (from reality). 
may have been chosen by President Jimmy Carter as one of the top 100
about America published during our bicentennial, however subsequent
reviews were not kind, in fact, some were downright mean. Much of
Fell’s early claims centered around New England (the now infamous
marks") , but he pressed on and the (re)discovery by
of petroglyphs around North America which were distinct from the New
material (save, perhaps, the so-called “Blanchard Stone” ),
reinvigorated the amateur hyper-diffusionist movement. Colorado,
Utah, California, Kentucky, just across the Montana border in the
Preserve along the Milk River in Canada, and other locations contained
petroglyphs which seemed related in style and manufacture. This
no longer a case for early Medieval Irish monks paddling their curraghs
to the New England shore -- to account for the widespread North
presence of a related series of petroglyphs, the “Old People’s Script”
was conceived. Maybe the Irish didn’t personally make it to Utah
or Colorado, the enthusiasts reason, and suggest that Native Americans
were copying or pretending to compose oghams. Very determined
for sure, but misguided and mistaken in their “Old People’s Script”
none the less.
 Cliff face with petroglyphs in Kentucky (notice human at top for size perspective).
Gloria Farley was a very, very determined enthusiast and is most often associated with her discovery of the “Heavener Runestone,” an enigmatic runic message located in Oklahoma, far from where one would normally think of finding Norse inscriptions. Her field-work continued and she's brought to light many priceless examples of rock art over the years. Believing she'd discovered “writing,” she made tracings and drawings of some of the rock art and sent them to Barry Fell for “translation.” One example comes to mind which, I believe, demonstrates how easily things can go wrong.
Farley, recently deceased, was once a tireless researcher who made many significant discoveries. What she did after those discoveries, making latex molds which destroyed any patina, drawing and only submitting partial descriptions, and the like, has been debated in diffusionist circles for many years and I won’t go into any of it here. At one point she sent Fell a drawing of a horse’s tail. Fell should have requested a photograph of the rock art, maybe some more background information, but he didn’t, and Fell “translated” the marks which make up the horse’s tail. Fell believed he saw Irish oghamic letters in the horse’s tail. Farley writes:
read the tail from right to
(upward) as ‘M-H-M-D,’ or ‘Eihm’ meaning ‘tail,
‘Moid,’ meaning ‘Bulky’ or ‘Bushy.’ Fell explains
the adjective in Gaelic follows the noun, and the words are pronounced
‘eem moid.’. . . . it is Gaelic for ‘Bushy Tail.’” 
Close-up of Hays Canyon panel; © 1996 RDF.
Farley weren’t troubled by the
fact that the New World horse (and camel) became extinct some ten
years ago and the horse was only reintroduced by the Spanish in early
century.  The first problem, then, would be: here’s
art of a horse; why assume it’s a few thousands of years old, despite
archaeological record which shows the horse wasn’t in the Americas a
thousand years ago? Second, equally as disturbing: why assume
marks which make up a horse’s tail represent an example of the Irish
scripts? Farley, to her partial credit, attempts to address both,
but can, unfortunately, only come up with the suggestion that Native
were taught the Irish oghamic script at some point, and retained
of it. In the text of her book, but not in a drawing or
she remarks upon the presence of the name of a “B. Kelley,” some
Order of the Odd Fellows graffiti, and accuses this “B. Kelley” of
vandalizing the ancient art depicting the horse.  I
serious issues with this approach.
Full Hays Canyon panel with I.O.O.F. graffiti; © 1996 RDF.
almost impossible for the naked eye
to distinguish between graffiti incised on these canyon walls during
50 years before that, or 500 years before that, even. The
only begin to show their age when they’re 1000, 2000, or 3000 or more
of age. All of the markings on the Hays Canyon panel, pictured
appear less than a thousand years of age. Sure, there’s graffiti
from different time periods, but all the markings appear relatively
Farley mentioned Kelley, the I.O.O.F. and saw vandalism.
it didn’t occur to her that “B. Kelley” was a bored cowboy at one
a member of the Odd Fellows (as were many cowboys at that
and the drawing of the horse was his. He wasn’t the vandal; he
Sniff Ranch w/ box-and-a-half brand; © 1996 RDF.
Kelley” is known to have worked
for The “Box-And-A-Half” Ranch (the name being taken from their
The box-and-a-half brand has been around for nearly 150 years, despite
the ranch changing hands a few times. The current owners, Jack
Darlene Sniff, have added their own unique brand, but retain the
as well. Above, is a picture of a sign outside of their ranch.
Sculpture atop Sniff mailbox; © 1996 RDF.
here's a photograph of their mailbox.
The position of the box-and-a-half on the horse's shoulder matches the
Hays Canyon rock art.
Burrows Cave stone with inscription.
Photo by B. McGlone. Used with permission.
B.C., Fell used
photographs of plaster replicas made from latex molds taken (by one of
Farley’s helpers) directly from parietal engravings discovered in
which showed designs consisting of the pairing of a four-sided closed
and a three-sided open square.  The “box-and-a-half”
in several of her reports and Fell translated the “letters” as
ancient Numidian or Tifinagh, and meaning Ras or
As misfortune would have it, the concept of Ras meaning chief
later utilized by a retired gravel salesman and local museum curator,
Ward, of Vincennes, Indiana.  Within months of the
of Ward's book, an associate, Russ Burrows, began selling inscribed
he claimed he discovered in a cave in southern Illinois. The
Burrows Cave problem continues until this day.
More straight lines from SE Colorado, © 1996 RDF.
in early 1983 I read a short mention
in The Boston Globe about an “inscription” discovered in
West Virginia and thought to be an ogham. I immediately went to
Boston Public Library and ordered a photocopy of an article by Barry
published in Wonderful West Virginia (a state-sponsored
which dealt with the claim of an ogham in the New World. 
It cost several dollars (rather expensive at the time), took over a
to arrive, but I soon had the article in hand. I had no idea that
more than twenty years later I would still be puzzled by it.
The cover of Wonderful West Virginia, March 1983.
Asked about the West Virginia material, Stephen Williams (archaeology, Harvard), described the marks as “turkey tracks” and believed them to be Native American.  While so-called turkey tracks are a significant aspect of Native American rock art and design, the West Virginia material appears more complex. I continue to maintain a need for a critical evaluation of Native American tally marks and such. I can’t imagine any serious investigation of marks found in America (and Canada) beginning any other way.
Claiming that straight lines in Native American settings were made or influenced by Old World travelers is protected speech. Everyone has a right to their opinion.  If damage can be shown to have resulted from certain claims, what was previously regarded as protected becomes actionable speech (such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater). To my knowledge, no personal or property damages have resulted from “Elvis sightings” or alleged conversations with little green men with poor hand to mouth coordination. This is not the case with hyper-diffusionist claims. There’s been damage to petroglyphs from inexperienced amateurs (chalking, taking latex-molds, etc.), vandalism from tourists, occultists, and antiquities dealers, but the most serious damage has been the (perhaps) irrecoverable loss of knowledge. It may be too late or it may not be. Time, as always, will tell.
The late Bill McGlone, an enthusiast who criticized Fell’s methodology (or, rather, the lack thereof) while continuing to embrace the underlying themes behind his hyper-diffusionist claims, was neither desk-bound nor above debate and met his foe on the field of battle with distinction. McGlone rallied folks to erect a protective barrier around a petroglyph site, held a diffusionist conference with invited professionals from many disciplines, and paid out-of-pocket expenses for the mailings of several important communications aimed at initiating serious debate between amateurs and professionals.  For his efforts, I can’t praise him enough. For what he didn’t do?
In a paper presented at a one-day symposium sponsored by the Denver Museum of Natural History and the Colorado Archaeological Society, Steve Sigstad of the USDA Forest Service recommended: “If the Ogam fanciers are really concerned about these sites, and we can put aside our divergent speculations, they could help us a great deal with concerted and organized recordation efforts. Also, if the publicity concerning these resources was turned down a notch, resulting in less traffic to the sites, it would reduce impacts. If we can cooperate despite out differences, maybe the rock art will still be there for future generations.”  These recommendations were not heeded by McGlone and with his passing a wonderful opportunity to explore and better understand many fascinating petroglyph sites has been missed.
It’s not fair. Attracted to straight lines which might be offered as support for their claims of oghamic script in the New World, McGlone and his associates often overlooked previously unrecorded nearby petroglyphs.  Asking if these straight lines are “History or Mystery?” might be clever, but it's not scientific. Whether the petroglyphs are eventually dated to the historical, proto-historical, or a prehistorical period does not take away from the importance of all the petroglyphs. It’s all history, our history, and the missed opportunity for proper recording, establishing context and creating a corpus is lost. No one wins and everyone loses. I repeat; it’s not fair.
was an intense bias toward diffusionist
theory that blinded McGlone and his group to other explanations, though
they claimed otherwise. After mentioning Marshack and work on a
American (Kiowa) calender stick, McGlone et al remark: “Because
the Indians also may have marked stone in this way, some of the more
carved panels of parallel marks in southeast Colorado should be
with this very interesting artifact for possible explanation as
This has no impact on our acceptance of some of the ancient
as Ogam, however.”  I don’t care for the arrogance of
“our acceptance” and charge that McGlone and his et al group
escape their collected bias. Case in point: besides work on
Upper Paleolithic lunar calendars, Marshack also studied Native
calendars.  In a 1989 book, Marshack again published
Native American calendars, the article was followed by a response (not
entirely unfavorable), and the next article concerned “Navajo Indian
ceilings.”  The book is not referenced in McGlone’s
I don’t recall him mentioning such to me during my week-long visit with
him in 1995 or our many telephone conversations and letters that we
Still, he was a bibliophile, aware of most publications which even
mentioned his concerns, and I find it difficult to accept that he
aware of “Navajo Indian star ceilings.” The controversial dating
of the so-called “Noble Twins” petroglyph and its impossible
has been discussed and will, likely in an unconventional fashion,
to be debated.  However, a scant several feet above
petroglyph is a natural partial cave with a “ceiling” containing
marks as used by the Navajo. The next state down from Colorado
similar markings, but because some amateurs with old dictionaries
certain straight lines and have issues with "acceptance," a Native
origin is not considered? Blind bias.
"A hundred and fifty years ago the white man came here; they took our women but left us some guns and horses, and the rocks. A hundred years ago, they came back and took away the guns and horses. Now they're back after the goddamned rocks!"
An unnamed old man and Native American. 
Petroglyph from Colorado (a.k.a. the "Noble Twins inscription"), c. 1000 BCE; © 1996 RDF.
Celtic: In Neas Saimh
English: The Noble Twins
Diagrammatic representation of the "Noble Twins inscription" (after McGlone and Leonard).
McGlone and his et al group (much like Boutet and Rappenglueck; see above) have attempted to rewrite the origin of the alphabet and the history of astronomy. In 1986, McGlone and Leonard, based upon the work of Rollin W. Gillespie (said to have been responsible for the creation of NASA), believed the so-called “Noble Twins" petroglyph dated from shortly after Aug. 8, 471 CE.  The oghamic script was in use during the fifth century of the Common Era and if one can overlook a “translation” using not the ogham language, but Old Irish which developed afterwards, then such a date is allowable. After Ronald Dorn’s experimental cation-ratio technique produced a date for the “Noble Twins" petroglyph of c. 1000 BCE, things got (and remain) silly. 
time redux: like Barry Fell, McGlone
and Leonard arbitrarily separated various series of straight lines to
individual letters, combined those letters and searched dictionaries
words to suit their needs.  MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL,
the Mesopotamian constellation (the “Great Twins” Lugal-irra
and Meslamta-ea; sometimes represented with the Sun as a
"Triad of Stars;" see image below) was recognized before c. 1200
When the Greeks began to assimilate the Babylonian concept of the
zodiac sometime shortly before the middle of the fifth century BCE,
associated the “Great Twins” with the local heroes, Castor and Pollux,
the Didymoi (“Gemini” being a Latin translation
under the Romans). Herodotus of Halicarnassus, writing c. 440
names the peoples north of Greece from the Pyrenees in Spain to the
of the Black Sea and Asia Minor as “Keltoi” or the Celts
(The Histories, Book II). Forty years later,
of mounting pressure from Germanic tribes living in the north, the
began to move into the Po Valley and Etruscan lands, eventually sacking
Rome in 390 BCE. Today, many archaeologists suspect that the
migratory waves of Celts into the British Isles began c. 500 BCE and
probably initiated by the Celts being displaced by encroaching Germanic
tribes. Some believe, as I do, that the earliest possible date
an origin of the oghamic script would have to be after 300 BCE and
to Latin letters. The attempted retrocession of Old and Middle Irish
and idioms by McGlone and Leonard to c. 1000 BCE is similar to Fell’s
Hill claim mentioned above. Too many problems exist for even
consideration, McGlone et al were certainly aware of these
during later publications, but decided not to retract or revise their
 "Triad of Stars," c. 1200 BCE.
III. “One of these days I gotta get myself organizized.”
For most, the claims mentioned above are clearly recognizable as pseudoscientific and implausible. Though Alexander Marshack’s hypothesis of Upper Paleolithic lunar calendars has been published many times in various peer-reviewed scientific journals and is entirely plausible, some remain skeptical and consider his work incomplete and his case not made. This ongoing debate (rather than spewing irresponsible claims and moving on to the next impossibility) helps define modern science. Where there's critical discussion, there's likely science and everything’s working fine.
Marshack first tested his “notational thesis” by analyzing Ice Age artifacts with “a tiny Japanese binocular microscope, which had cost $15.” His initial results emboldened him to push further and with more research (and the use of the “finest possible micro and macro optical equipment”), Marshack began to establish a methodology which allowed serious speculation about the abilities of early man. 
My favorite Marshack story (everyone should have one, btw) concerns an engraved ivory object from the Mal’ta region of Siberia which is dated c. 24,000 BCE. In 1992, I purchased Geoffrey Ashe’s Dawn Behind the Dawn and was intrigued with a proposed ancient tradition regarding the number 7 from a “homeland” somewhere near the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal (where Siberia borders Mongolia).  Ashe reproduced a line-drawing of an Upper Paleolithic engraving which seemed to show a series of marks in 7 spirals and conjectured that this 7 tradition had diffused from Mal’ta to India, Sumer, and Egypt in one direction, and in another direction across the Bering Straight with the folks who would later become the Hopi. Eager at the possibility of furthering my skeptical diffusionism, I imagined that here was a way for New World traditions to be identical with Old World ones not from diffusion, but rather one in which the traditions were old enough to be brought to the New World as part of initial migrations. No secret history or archaeological conspiracies! The Hopi had the 7 tradition all the time! Things are never clear cut when you deal with fantastic propositions and I guess that’s for the best. Shortly after buying Ashe’s book I picked up a revised copy of Marshack’s The Roots of Civilization.  There was a major problem with Ashe’s proposed ancient tradition and it had to do with the engraved Mal’ta object. Marshack wrote:
When I went to
Union to study the plaque from Malta I discovered that almost one
was missing and portions had been reconstructed and replaced with
This wax had then been marked with an approximation of the number of
that may originally have been present. A precise count and test
not, therefore, be undertaken. That the spirals might, however,
been related to a symbolization of time and the year, is possible and
subject will be addressed in a separate and later study. 
"Fig. 202 C A schematic rendition of the spiral design on one face of
the ivory belt buckle from the Ice Age site of Malta, Siberia, showing
the area of the break and the modern reconstruction."
See above,  Marshack 1991; p. 337. Used without permission.
Reconstructed? Wax? Way to go, Alexander! Ashe’s theory of a globally diffused number 7 tradition couldn’t even get on-base because it struck out at home. Marshack answered a letter of enquiry with:
As to the Mal’ta plaque, I first learned of its existence in a number of papers sent to me by the Soviet historian and ethnologist, Boris Frolov. Since I could find no evidence of a counting by “sevens” in any of the materials I had studied, I made it a point to go to Russia to study the plaque. It was then that I discovered that the drawings were all in error, since they published and counted the reconstructed markings. The idea that the Upper Paleolithic notations were “hunting tallies,” “menstrual counts” and pregnancy counts, etc. is common and is often found in the popular and professional literature. I have found no evidence for such hypotheses. 
[As a coda of sorts to the above tale, I sent Fell a copy of Ashe’s Dawn Behind the Dawn to acquaint him with other models to explain similar cultural traits between New and Old world peoples without diffusion and also to begin a discussion about Marshack and the value of not being desk-bound and actually studying an object before publishing about it. Some weeks later, his wife sent me the book back along with a memorial card. My package containing the book had been on his desk, unopened, the day he passed away.]
By microscopically analyzing Ice Age art, Marshack has been able to argue for a “time-factored” process involved in the creation of certain works of Ice Age art, in that he’s detected the use of individually identifiable tools at separate periods of time. In other words, some ancient objects show a variety of marks not usually associated with mere decorations, which are often made at a single sitting. The use of various tools, perhaps by different people, more pressure here and less there, a twist now with deep impressions, followed by a series of light punctures, and other traits combine to indicate in Marshack’s view that spontaneity may have been supplemented with forethought and planning. Looking closely, Marshack believes he’s been able to ascertain the order of many of the engraved marks and differentiate between markings which are made one on top of another. For many years now, he’s rightly been the go-to guy for erudite comments on newly discovered Ice Age art and for good reason – he’s been the most careful and hardest working individual in the field. Yet, his critics still challenge and we’re the better for it.
Perhaps the most accessible example of critical discussion on Marshack’s theory of Upper Paleolithic prearithmetical notation and the merits of his methodology involves a review by an art historian.  The journal, Current Anthropology, usually publishes a major article per issue along with several comments by professionals in related and pertinent fields, and allows the author to answer those comments. Major article + peer comments + rejoinder = critical discussion (or a damn fine approximation). Dr. James Elkins (art history and theory, Art Institute of Chicago) asked if a “close reading” was truly possible regarding Ice Age art and whether Marshack wasn’t being too exact, allowing increasingly sophisticated scientific instrumentation to see what no Ice Age individual(s) intended, and had succumbed to personal discretion. Fair enough. The peer comments and the author’s reply, however, were exceptional.
One commentator uses “Marshackian forensics” to express an ongoing frustration with what he correctly perceives as a potentially biased scrutiny of Ice Age engravings by Marshack.  Observer effect, after a fashion. Another commentator contributes: “Marshack has never clearly described or validated by replicative experiments the diagnostic criteria he uses in his microscopic analysis, and therefore when he identifies the technique used in producing prehistoric marks we do not know the basis of his claim.”  Such demanding exactitude (mindful that the only exact science is mathematics, with astronomy as a lucky dependent) is currently used all too often as an argumentative end-run, especially when there’s little else to complain about. And still another commentator offers: “Objects are lit, magnified, photographed, cropped, photographically enlarged, captioned, and accompanied by text in support of the position being advocated. This is not in any way to suggest purposeful sleight-of-hand on Marshack’s part but rather to point out that his interpretive agenda leads him to see one of numerous possible patterns in a kind of optical and cognitive selectivity. Preferential lighting is a revealing example.” 
Summing up his comments on Elkins’ article, Marshack writes: “[Elkins] has indicated no knowledge of the Upper Paleolithic materials or their variability. He has not understood the nature of ‘close reading’ as an aspect of ongoing historical development rather than as philosophical and logical constraint. Nor has he addressed the general problem of the nature of notation as a variable form of information encoding or of notational analysis as a specialized form of inquiry occurring at different levels of ‘close reading.’ Nevertheless, it will henceforth be impossible to discuss the problem of notation or notational analysis without reference to the perplexity of and the arguments and problems raised by Elkins.”  Ouch! Marshack seems to employ an “appeal to authority” approach with himself as the authority!
Elkins' response to the commentators largely concerns evidentiary semantics and epistemological gobbledygook, yet he ended his reply with an honesty seldom exercised in academia. He wrote: “What initially drew me to Marshack’s analyses was his writing, and what provoked my ‘overly generous’ assessment of his work was the power of his writing. Marshack can write with astonishing force, and his photomicrographs can be coercive ‘visual arguments.’ As far as I’m concerned, there is still no book in the history of art that arrays its visual material with such compelling success as The Roots of Civilization.”  Here, here! Feature writers turned amateur prehistorians and Ice Age art critics rule!
In the recently published Figuring It Out, Prof. A. C. Renfrew (archaeology, Cambridge) writes of Marshack’s work: “Perhaps the most intriguing of all are the notched artefacts .... of bones and antler, found mainly in the Franco-Cantabrian area, which have been studied in detail by Alexander Marshack. By showing that the incisions were made on several occasions, Marshack is able to claim them as a form of notation, perhaps recording successive observations of the moon. This would then qualify as the earliest known calendar notation, a good example of external symbolic storage. And if we are indeed claiming that these early humans were inherently every bit as clever as us, why should this not be so?”  Lord Renfrew is being cautiously optimistic. Two “perhaps” and he can share his excitement, while maintaining the status quo of skepticism. Is that cool or what?
We’re still far from fully understanding the “Neolithic Revolution” and the spread of agriculture and language, yet there seems to be an Upper Paleolithic revolution slowly and steadfastly developing and Alexander Marshack’s work has been in the forefront for decades. Marshack admits that external notches and straight lines are inherently susceptible to subjective interpretation and argues that his gleaned internal evidence makes his case. It doesn’t. It's a maybe.
Ancient straight lines, whether parietal or portable, defy forensic interpretation because we can’t penetrate their constituent phenomenological simplicity. Marshack attempts to turn marques de chasse (“hunting marks”) into lunar calendars, eschewing a tally of prey for a tally of days (or nights). As all of the artifacts presented by Marshack as evidence for Upper Paleolithic lunar calendars are individual, seeming to share no consistent notational pattern, every artifact remains uniquely problematic. Much like every generation receives a different interpretation of Stonehenge, perhaps years from now the engraved items from the Upper Paleolithic will be envisioned as something beyond our current imagining.
The ancient straight lines in the New World, which some believe are related to oghamic scripts, likewise continue to resist any surety of interpretation. Unlike Marshack’s Old World Upper Paleolithic straight lines, however, in the New World there are direct descendants of those who made some of those ancient straight lines. When joined with a better understanding of Native American number words and counting systems, perhaps we will one day be in a position to venture into proto-historical periods and even earlier.  Until then, they’re just a bunch of straight lines.
Engraved slate from Salamanca, Spain. See above,  Diringer 1948;
p. 569 (Fig. 253.6). Used without permission.
by Julius Caesar; translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn.
Book 6, Chap.
“The Druids do not go to war,
"Figure 18. Examples of "Music" petroglyphs." Used without permission. Leonard, Phillip M. and William R. McGlone. 1996. A Study of Script-Like Petroglyphs in Southeast Colorado. Kamas, UT: Mithras, Inc.; p. 29.
to their "Music" petroglyphs, which they claim have a relationship to
North Arabian and/or Brahmi
Linus Van Pelt in A
Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).
1.4 to 1.2 million year old straight lines engraved on an animal bone from Kozarnika, Bulgaria.
Photograph by Aleta Guadelli. Used without permission.
above is one of two animal bones
engraved with straight lines which have recently been discovered at
Cave in northern Bulgaria. Available at:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3512470.stm, a BBC News
Online article states that
the other engraved bone is said to have "27 marks along its
A journal article is said to be in preparation.
Kozarnika incised bone at over a million years old was probably
produced by the intentional efforts of a Homo erectus individual.
My writings on “Straight Lines” were initially presented as three
separate columns and later joined into a single article in 2003.
Several months later, I became aware of the Kozarnika incised bone and
included an image as an “Update” to my “Straight Lines: Selected
Reviews” article. Admittedly, it was presented entirely too
casually, as my interest concerned intentional markings by Homo erectus, yet I ...merely
provided a hyperlink (now, a URL) for a BBC News Online article and
left it to the reader to pursue the topic further. The 'Update'
was an afterthought of sorts as I learned that straight lines, the
easiest marks to make on a hard surface, other than by simple pitting
the making of a series of relatively circular indentations, were an
aspect of hominan behavior much before Marshack’s model of Upper
Paleolithic cognitive and “time-factored” notations and very much
before the Iron Age invention and usage of the oghamic script.
Honestly, I was overwhelmed that manufactured straight lines were not
solely the result of modern humans (though the Pech de l’Azé
incised ox-rib at 200,000 BP seemed to allow for either Homo erectus or the archaic Homo sapiens, as Homo neanderthalis aren’t
significantly represented in Europe before 150,000 BP). From the
sub-family, Homininae, we’ve stood on two feet, learned to do amazing
things with our hands, developed love and commitment as an evolutionary
consequence. Though we continue to construct better models of
what constitutes ‘human’ behavior with debates often concerning
brain-size and some evidence of the presence of the area of the brain
most often associated with speech and language (i.e. "Bronca’s Brain")
which is perhaps first identified in Homo
habilis (see: Wilkins, W.K. and J. Wakefield. 1995.
“Brain Evolution and Neurolinguistic Preconditions.” Behavioral and Brain
Sciences. 18, 1: 161-226). As we work to better
understand what makes us human, I will continue to marvel at the
evidence which, if dated correctly, shows that the ability and
intentionality of making straight lines should be an important
component of any definition of human behavior.
these new discoveries of intentionally made straight lines essential
questions of symbolism and accurate dating arise. As these
various marks are judged to be distinct from de-fleshing cuts on bone
and do not seem to serve any utilitarian or tool function (e.g. being
damage scars on stone from the sharping of wood or bone needles or
constituting an unknown device like combs or straighteners), the
intentionally made straight lines should be regarded as our oldest
examples of intellectual symbolism, though for decorative and artistic
reasons or to represent notational or another graphical commutativity
remains to be argued and demonstrated. Accurate dating is always
appreciated and though relative dating brings us to a general
chronological period, science is continuing to refine and create new
forms of absolute dating through an ever increasing variety of ways
such as noting the decay of carbon-14 (or radiocarbon), the radiometric
potassium-argon and argon-argon methods, known geomagnetic fluctuation
events and eras, thermoluminesence, etc. I haven’t yet identified
the dating systems used with these ancient artifacts and I’m going to
guess that most of these items continue to be tested. Still, the
possible evidence of symbolic ability and behavior by early Homo populations is most impressive
and challenging. For two recent textbooks which discuss dating
systems, see the relative chapters in: Feder, Kenneth L.
Past in Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory.
Fourth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill and Renfrew, Colin and Paul
Bahn. 2004. Archaeology:
Methods, and Practice.
Fourth edition. New York:
Thames and Hudson.
continues to take two steps forward, a step back, and it now seems our
distant cousins were definitely not the dumb brute caricatures of
yesteryear, possessed advanced cultural components, but weren’t
actually our “distant cousins,” still family, but it seems there was an
evolutionary estrangement some 500,000 years ago (passim Richard E.
Green, J. Krause, S. E. Ptak, A. W. Briggs, M. T. Ronan, J. F. Simons,
Lei Du, M. Egholm, J. M. Rothberg, M. Paunovic, S.
Pääbo. 2006. “Analysis of one million base pairs
of Neanderthal DNA.” Nature.
444, 16: 330-336). A recent claim has been made that although no Homo neanderthalis DNA (or
mitochrondrial DNA, actually) has so far been detected in any living Homo sapiens sapiens, at least one
team of scientists is still sort of looking. The aside was
included with a remarkable claim, the subject of a newspaper feature
article, that all Europeans are descendent from women who lived
somewhere in an area stretching from the Levant to Italy: “These
seven women – or ‘clan mothers’ as Prof Bryan Sykes, professor of
genetics at Oxford University, calls them – lived between 45,000 and
10,000 years ago, everywhere from the Syrian savannah to the Tuscan
hills. See: Davis,
Laura. “How to trace your Ice Age
ancestors by DNA testing.” March 1, 2008. Liverpool Daily Post.
77,000 BP engravings on ochre from Blombos Cave, near Still Bay, South Africa made by early Homo sapiens sapiens. Photographs from The Blombos Cave Project web-site, funded by Norway’s University of Bergen, at: http://www.svf.uib.no/sfu/blombos/index.htm. Used without permission. See also “Art Prehistory” by Sean Henahan; available online at: http://www.accessexcellence.org/WN/SU/caveart.html.
The emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, between 300,000 and 200,000 BP in Africa seems certain and migration of modern humans from Africa to the rest of Mom Terra appears to have begun around 100,000 BP. Many other hominans had been leaving Africa for over a million years, yet it’s with the ‘Last Homo Standing’ model which has modern humans having evolved from and been distantly related to many species of Homo which have gone extinct (accepting that the cryptozoologists are wrong about the Yeti, Big Foot, etc. humanoid legends being observations of variations of Homo erectus or some other bipedal cryptid). We’re the last of a long line of bipeds which kept getting smarter and finally mastered the ability to order a pizza and have it delivered in thirty minutes or less.
At 77,000 BP, the engraved ochre artifacts from Blombos Cave site are unquestionably the products from a series of Homo sapiens sapiens occupations from the late Mid Pleistocene to the early Late Pleistocene (approximately 130,000 to 70,000 BP). The ochre shown above is said to have been mined some twenty miles away from the site. Ochre (hematite, an iron oxide) had been used by other hominans (e.g. the so-called Homo heidelbergensis species at 300,000 BP) and its use as a pigment continues in almost every culture around the globe today. Though many thousands of examples of ochre have been found at the Blombos Cave site, the scratches made upon them to produce an ochre powder do not look anything like the straight line symbolism on the two engraved artifacts.
Mousterian engraved animal bone from 60,000-48,000 BP; I believe it’s unknown if the marks were made by a Homo neanderthalis or early Homo sapiens sapiens, though the former seems more likely. Photograph from: Davis, Simon. 1974. “Incised bones from the Mousterian of Kebara Cave (Mount Carmel) and the Aurignacian of Ha-Yonim Cave (Western Gallilee), Israel.” Paléorient. 2, 1: 181-182. Used without permission. For a detailed, though a tad dated, overview, see: O. Bar-Yosef; B. Vandermeersch; B. Arensburg; A. Belfer-Cohen; P. Goldberg; H. Laville; L. Meignen; Y. Rak; J. D. Speth; E. Tchernov; A-M. Tillier; S. Weiner; G. A. Clark; Andrew Garrard; Donald O. Henry; Frank Hole; Derek Roe; Karen R. Rosenberg; L. A. Schepartz; John J. Shea; Fred H. Smith; Erik Trinkaus; Norman M. Whalen; Lucy Wilson. “The Excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel [and Comments and Replies].” Current Anthropology. 33, 5: 497-550. For a discussion of Homo neanderthalis co-existing with Homo sapiens sapiens in Israel, see: Shea, John J. 2001. “Feature: The Middle Paleolithic: Early Modern Humans and Neandertals in the Levant.” Near Eastern Archaeology. 64, 1/2: 38-64.
hominans out of Africa is still limited to land or short maritime
crossings at the north-eastern point of Africa into the Near East of
Asia and the north-western point which is an easy entrance into
Europe. As we continue to investigate ancient coastal rafting
technologies, a maritime migration out of Africa perhaps into the
Indian Ocean with its monsoon currents may allow for different
dispersion patterns for hominans leaving one continent for one or more
different continents. Sure, by the Neolithic humans were using
boats (passim Stieglitz, Robert R. 1984. “Long-Distance
Seafaring in the Ancient Near East.” The Biblical
Archaeologist. 47, 3: 134-142), but as Homo erectus may have been the best
runner in our family, the species was also capable of limited maritime
travel with rafting or drift-wood.
Photograph in a review of the first edition of The Roots of Civilization from: Trotter, Robert J. 1972. “New Lines: Science News in Science Fields. Tracing the Roots of Civilization.” Science News. 101, 8: 124-126. Photograph of Marshack shortly before his passing from: Bahn, Paul G. 2005. “Obituary: Alexander Marshack, 1918-2004. Antiquity. 79: 489-490. Both photographs used without permission. Also, see: Bayot, Jennifer. 2004. “Alexander Marshack, 86; Studied Stone Age Innovations.” December 28; B-6. New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851 - 2004) database. (Document ID: 1065399592). Marshack succumbed to heart failure on December 20, 2004. It’s been over three years and I still have to remind myself that he’s gone.