Search for meanings: from pleistocene art to the worship of the mountains in early China. Methodological
tools for Mimesis.
Bustamante D. email@example.com Archaeoastronomy Researcher, Taller Taucan, Fellow researcher of The Los Alamos National Laboratory Geographic Information Systems for the Preservation of Archaeological Sites and Petroglyphs. Member of AURA, the Australian Rock Art Research Association.
W. Fay Yao. firstname.lastname@example.org IEEE Computer Society, IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society, Resource and Information Specialist, Albuquerque Public Schools System,.
Daniela Bustamante. email@example.com Architecture graduated.
Bednarik (2009) described the
Makapansgat jasperite cobble, a stone shaped as a human face deposited 2.5
to 3 million years ago. Tsao et al. (2006) demonstrated that face
perception is a crucial skill to primates, humans and macaque
monkeys. Applying two methodological tools of the Entorno Archaeology - Psychological and Geographical Entorno-, may allow to understand the process that probably led
the Pleistocene humans to sacralize rocks -Mimetoliths- and
objects -Mimetomorphs- with natural forms that
resembled animals or human beings, in increasing scale, from small rocks, big
mountains and Mountainous ranges, in the early Chinese culture, where we have
found that three mythological characters: Pan-Gu (盘古), Fu-Xi (伏羲) and
Shen-Nong (神农), probably were sacralized mountains.
Mimesis, by the psychological phenomena of Pareidolia, Apophenia and Hierophany (The PAH triad), might explain the many instances
when humans between Pleistocene and early chinese culture attributed religious
significance or extraordinary connections to ordinary imagery and subjects. On
the other hand, Mimetoliths and Mimetomorphs might contribute to explain
the origins of Palaeoart, animism and religion.
words: Palaeoart, Mimesis, Pareidolia, Apophenia,
This article is the
result of the research in archaeological sites of Chile and other countries in
America. In previous papers PAH triad was proposed as an ubiquitous phenomena.
The first version of this paper was presented in the IFRAO 2010
Congress, Foix - France, 'Pleistocene Art of the World'. Symposium. SIGNS,
SYMBOLS, MYTH, IDEOLOGY. Pleistocene Art: the archeological material and its
understand the phenomena and processes that took place during the Pleistocene
era, we must open up our perspective in order to acknowledge what happened
before and after.
paper analyzes the influence of three psychological phenomena inherent to all
human beings: Pareidolia, Apophenia and Hierophany (PAH Triad), (Bustamante
2008) in the recognition of Mimetoliths and Mimetomorphs, in the period between
3 millions in the past and the formative period of the Chinese culture. Also examines modern cases.
PAH triad does not explain ‘spiritual’ matters, but digs into the formulation
of images by means of our senses. While studying objects, geographic features,
sounds and signs in the surroundings of a specific area, it comes useful to
inquire ourselves What does it look like? In this article we will only study
phenomenon): involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound)
being perceived as significant. Psychological phenomenon related to the
phenomenon): that describe the experience of seeing patterns or connections in
random or meaningless data. The term was coined by Klaus Conrad (1958).
Hierophany (psychological phenomenon):
the perception of a manifestation of the sacred.
PAH Triad (psychological
phenomenona): Pareidolia-Apophenia-Hierophany working simultaneously, is changeable among diverse
individuals. The PAH triad is part of the unconscious mechanisms inherent to
every human being, present in the primary stages of the early development of
the human conscience.
(M): 1.a. a natural topographic feature or rock which natural shape resembles something else –
human, animal, plant, manufactured item, or part(s) thereof. (Dietrich 1989).
(Mm): Any kind of material (bones, wood, mud and others)
with natural shapes that resembled animals, human beings or other objects. Many
of these material don’t survive passage of the time.
Modified (M-m): Natural shape altered by
Modified (Mm-m): Natural shape altered by
Entorno’s (surrounding) archaeology Moyano
and Bustamante (2010) provides entrees to link cultural, geographical, climatic,
biotical, astronomical, atmospheric and psychological information from
ethno-archaeological data in small, medium and large scale. It
strengthens the concepts of Landscape archaeology Bradley (2000) and the Xi'An Declaration. http://www.international.icomos.org/xian2005/xian-declaration.htm
- Quoted bibliographical sources.
- Regarding this article, the information contained
in it come from web sites properly checked it is considered
equivalent to personal communication. The last consultation date of the cited pages is May 2010.
Analyze archaeological evidences in order to understand the evolution
between 3 million years BP to the early Chinese culture.
- Identify the possible influence of the PAH Triad and Mimetoliths
recognition in the origin of paleoart, animism and religion.
6. Examples sorted by date
Following this, we present a small selection of Mimetoliths and Mimetomorphs from 3
million years BP to 2,000 years BP. Each object represents a period and not a
specific date. The available examples are numerous, and due to length
restrictions, it is not possible to present more.
6.1 Makapansgat, 3 millions of years BP
Makapansgat cobble, which are of such effective
iconic properties that they were noticed by hominids up to three million years
ago. (Bednarik 2008).
6.2 GROß Pampau, GR, c. 500,000 BP
j) pampbird3, Identified as 'bird with fossil inclusion' by Ursel Benekendorff.
India 500,000 - 200,000 BP
Bhimbetka, Auditorium Cave, Madhya Pradesh:
Acheulian Petroglyph Site.
6.4 Tan-Tan Venus,
Morocco, 500,000 to 300,000 BP
Figurine from Tan-Tan, southern Morocco, a modified manuport from a
Middle Acheulian layer (Bednarik 2006).
6.5 Berekhat Ram, Female figurine, Israel. 470
000 to 230 000 BP
Basaltic tuff pebble containing scoria clasts excavated in an Acheulian
occupation layer at Berekhat Ram, Golan Heights; (Bednarik (2006).
6.6 Erfoud, Morocco, Late
Acheulian, 200 000 to 300 000 BP
Fossilized fragment of a cuttlefish cast that
has the distinct shape and size of a human penis. Bednarik (2006).
Hamburg-Wittenbergen c. 200,000 BP
Heads / h) hwhdwhat, "40.1.
Kopf mit Kappe von Wittenbergen. Nr. 3,1." http://www.originsnet.org/hambwitt2gallery/pages/h%29hwhdwhat.htm
6.8 Katonga River basin, Paleolithic
A phalangeal ‘doll’
from the, Yenisey Uezd District, Yenisey Governate/Province in central Siberia,
11 cm. Beads, cloth and a reindeer phalange. (Caldwell 2009).
Mimetoliths and Mimetomorph.
6.9 Three Chinese gods.
mythological characters described as possible sacralized elements of the
natural landscape in the origin of all belonging to the formative period of the
Chinese culture (Bustamante
et al 2010):
Hsi (伏羲): mythological emperor, a culture hero invented writing, fishing, and trapping. Possible in
their origin was a mountain. (figure 2 a).
Nong (神农): mythological emperor established
a stable agricultural society in China. Possible in their origin was a mountain. (figure 2 b).
Pan Gu (盘古): Central figure in Taoist legends of creation. After dead his body became
in the five sacred mountains of China (figure 2
Figure 2: Three
7.1 From the
smallest and simple to the biggest and complex
Makapansgat: Mimetolith (M). The
earliest evidence of the phenomenon known as pareidolia. If pareidolia allows
to explain the origins of art, this mimetolith dates it in a range of 2.5 to 3
million years BP.
GROß PAMPAU: Mimetolith (M). Findings from this period (500,000 years BP)
may be considered as early manifestations of the symbolic though. The first
expressions of apophenia (to relate this rock with a bird and as a symbol of
communication with heaven) and hierophany (perception of the phenomenon as
numinous) are probably
linked to this epoch.
say: “Selective activity precedes and prepares the
production of graphic marks, symbols and patterns. A process that, according to
Bednarik, will later result on to the invention of art. From
"reading" to "writing" perceptual-symbolic patterns in
reality”. (http://arthistorypart1.blogspot.com/2007/11/proto-art-and-paleo-art.html). Pareidolia can explain that process.
elephant: Mimetolith modified (M-m). tentative Interpretation of James Harrod suggests that the Acheulian
artisans who placed the cupules on Chief's Rock may have seen the rock as a
figuration of one or even two elephants. Sitúa el origen del paisaje culturalmente
transformado Tilley 1994) en 500,000
Berekhat Ram: example of Mimetolith modified
(M-m). Back in this period, our
ancestors had the capacity to recognize a human shape on mimetoliths, probably
relate it to a ‘superior’ being and alter it to enhance the resemblance. This
may be considered as a prehistoric referent of the psychological origins of
Tan-Tan Venus: Mimetolith modified
(M-m). The figurine bears microscopic traces of a red pigment,
which is currently the earliest evidence of applied coloring material. This case is similar to the previous
Katonga River basin: Mimetomorph modified
(Mm-m). According Caldwell (2009) “The use of phalangeal figurines from central Siberia
to Greenland also suggests that the practice spread around the Arctic from
ancient sources”. Mimetomorphs can be made
out of biodegradable materials (bone, Wood, textiles) therefore the number of
objects found may be considerably minor than the number that actually existed.
China. Fu Xi, Shen Nong, Pan Gu: Mimetoliths (M). Shows documented cases of
sacralized mountains. Big scale mimetoliths, show the up scaling complexity of
the phenomenon. Pan Gu is the greatest Mimetolith found at present, 1,150 km.
by 660 km.
Figure 3: Mimetolith A) Makapansgat, the smallest. B)
Pan Gu, the bigest.
may be the detonator for the development of apophenia and hierophany, and after
these two, religion. Evidence indicates that this process was begun at least
2.5 to 3 million years ago. Future findings will allow to complete the secuense
and determinate in a more precise way the earliest manifestation of each
How many mimetoliths
or mimetomorphs might have been discarded in diverse archaeological sites? Now
that we are able to identify them it is possible that in the future we will
find dated further back in time.
7.2 Mimetholiths and the evolution of the
The ability to recognize mimetoliths has
manifested progressively since the early stages of the development of the human
brain, as it is exemplified in the following image.
Figure 4. human brain
evolution Mimetoliths and Mimetomorphs.
Examples of pareidolia in animals suggest that this process may have
started earlier in the development of brain.
7.3 Animals and Pareidolia
The effects of
pareidolia appear to have influenced not only human beings, but also animals.
Here we present five examples of this: “We and other animals all are predisposed,
then, to see ambiguous phenomena as alive. In our case, we also are disposed to
see them as humanlike. Occasionally we are right, and these instances justify
the strategy. Often we are mistaken, and if we later see this, we call the
mistakes animism or anthropomorphism”. Guthrie. (2001).
-ant-mimicking spider: Aphantochilus rogersi is an ant-mimicking spider that preys exclusively
on cephalotine ants. (Castanho y Oliveira, PS, 1997).
Frog and sea urchins
“Just as frogs are prone to see moving dots
on a screen as flies, and sea urchins will avoid any dark shadow as if it were
an enemy fish, humans too tend to interpret their environment with the
"models generated by their most pressing interests" (Guthrie
1996: 418; 2002: 54, cited by Westh 2009)”.
“We observed nine individuals of this species
displaying a repertoire of postures and body patterns, several of which are
clearly impersonations of venomous animals co-occurring in this habitat...
…Additionally, our observations suggest that the octopus makes decisions about
the most appropriate form of mimicry to use, allowing it to enhance further the
benefits of mimicking toxic models by employing mimicry according to the nature
of perceived threats”. Norman et al (2001).
Figure 5 shows two
different shapes adopted by this octopus.
5 Mimic octopus:
(a) sentinel state in mouth of burrow; (b) lion-fish model (Pterois sp.).
Monkeys and Pareidolia
“Face perception is a skill crucial to primates…. …Almost all (97%) of
the visually responsive neurons in this region were strongly face selective,
indicating that a dedicated cortical area exists to support face processing in
the macaque.” Tsao et al (2006).
In their conclusions it can be read “Why is it important that the brain contains
an area consisting entirely of face-selective cells? First, this indicates that
the brain uses a specialized region to process faces”… This indicates that
our primate ancestors were in conditions of recognize mimetoliths.
Animals and Pareidolia.
7.4 Mimesis and Pareidolia
Pareidolia does not depend
on the size of the brain. Hallow to explain a) perceptual errors (false recognition), b) the mimiking (To
resemble closely; simulate:), c) The
camouflage (concealment by some means that alters or obscures the
appearance). Figure 7 compares the
sizes of a human brain with the brains of a monkey and a frog.
Figura 7: Compared brains.
There are no specific
studies about pareidolia on animals, but, it is possible to conclude based on
circumstantial evidences, that a high percentage of animals may use it to
recognize their predators, preys or others, as survival mechanism.
language of nature
Probably, human beings
tried to decipher the “language of nature” from the beginning. Thanks to Pareidolia,
it seems like they read the cosmos, the sky and the land as if they were a
gigantic Rorschach test that allowed them to see figures in the sky and the
By means of apophenia and
hierophany, those figures were interpreted according to their context and to
what they seemed to suggest, always coming up with a coherent explanation in
relation to the happenings and observed events.
8: Mechanism of exploration and understanding of the
Figure 8 explains the
process: A) the observer explored the signs in the sky and the land as if they
were a Rorschach test. The human brain is the "most
existing complex computer B) when an apparent figure appeared on the
land a similar one did on the sky. It must have been a specialist task,
probably for chamans, to establish intricate relations and discover the
different cycles of nature (the 4 seasons, length of the year, and others).
Legends probably arose as a
record of the diverse phenomena observed and the relations linking them,
elaborating stories that contained the keys to recognize this phenomenon. The
key to understand these events and compose this tales was to identify common
components (constellations for example) connecting unknown occurrences with
well known objects and characters. By doing that, it was easier to individually
remember them, set up categories and connections and eventually recognize
changes in a certain period of time.
Possibly, whoever had this
special ability turned into the interpreters of the “God’s plans”, with a
special knowledge of the sacred and a particular power over the sky, the land
and the rest of men. This, eventually, may have led to the origin of structured
According to Rubia (2005) “the biological adaptation
has nothing to do with copying reality; to adapt means to find possibilities
and means to overcome resistances and obstacles in the experienced world”. The
PAH triad empirically explains the way this process took place.
7.6 Fertility cult., Apophenia and
If there is a cult
devotes to a certain object associated to natural events, we are in position to
affirm that we are in presence of Apophenia and Hierophany. About the Palaeolithic figurative art of Eastern Europe and Siberia, Poikalainen (2001) in the conclusion says:
“The most evenly represented
motif in the area under discussion is female figurines or the sc. Palaeolithic
Venus figures. Their largest scale distribution and detailed elaboration
reflects how the worldview of a Pleistocene man was connected to the fertility
cult. Some paintings discovered in the Ignatievka cave also refer to the
The origins of art
Leon Battista Alberti, (1464) in his treatise “De Statua” describes the
mode in which he thinks sculpture begun: “I
believe that arts that aspire to imitate the creations of nature were
originated according to the following scheme: on the trunk of a tree, a cloud of earth, or on any other
thing, were accidentally discovered one day certain contours that needed only a
few retouches to notably look like a natural object. Focusing on that, men
examined if it was possible, by means of addition and subtraction, to complete
what was missing to achieve the perfect resemblance. Thus, by adjusting and
removing features according to the scheme required by the object itself, men
succeeded in what they intended to do, and no without pleasure. From that day
on, men´s ability to create images was growing until they knew how to form any
kind of resemblance, even when the material did not present outlines that guided
the labour”. (cited by Gombrich
Pareidolia supplies an adequate explanation for this
7.9. Models of explanation
of early manifestations.
Following a non-exhaustive brief synthesis of some models used to explain the origins of art, animism
and religious manifestations.
J.D. Lewis-Williams and T.A. Dowson
(1988) in their article 'The Signs of All Times' propose the Origin of Art in
Entoptic Phenomena in time to the Upper Palaeolithic by which we can gain
insight into the nature of the origins of art. Guthrie (1993) explain religion as systematic anthropomorphism. According to Clottes
(2003) our Cro-Magnons ancestors were exactly like us: our direct lineage
begins in Africa, at least 120,000 years ago; the alter states of
consciousness are an intrinsic component of the human neuropsychological
background. Vitalino (2007)
associates myths and geographic formations (geomythology), describing myths and
the relation with mythology, but fails to make a deeper study of the
psychological phenomenon that justify it. Helvenston and Hodgson (2010) base
their interpretation on neurophysiology.
PAH triad offers an adequate theoretic model that allows to explain this
phenomenon. It clarifies the origin of paleo art, its relation to animism and
the possible origin of shamanism and religion, based on psychological
mechanisms inherent to human beings, making unnecessary an altered state of
consciousness, but may be favored by them. “Religious ecstasy is the extraordinary, not
tipical response” (whitley 2009, 195).
The PAH triad as a methodology
has multiple scopes, from the study of paleo-art to the development of methods
to study cultural astronomy.
origin of symbols.
The PAH triad may explain
the origins of sacred art. Acording Whitley
(2009, 178) “Borrowing again from native
America, despite the potential inferential hazards in doing so. I recognize
that in shamanistic cultures, painting and engravings are material objects
first and foremost, before they are signs or symbols. They exist because not
someone placed then there, but simply because they are there as physical
entities in their own right. In native american eyes, they have a life and
an agency of their own, with or without human involvement. Indeed in many
native American cultures human creation of the art is consistently denied”.
some point, natural shapes (mimetoliths-mimetomorphs) might have triggered the
shapes created by humans “transforming the given in to the created” (Whitley
2009, 48), but, the natural forms continued being valued through time, Most
likely as “divine creations” or with an intrinsic power.
Modern aniconic cultures (islamism, judaism…) still consider sacred certain
symbolic figures, sites or rocks and others (Bustamante 2008 c). This indicates
that natural tendencies are strong and with deep psychological roots.
What does it look like?
studies only show a drawing (petroglyph) but fail to assign any of value to
the mount or the surroundings. It is precisely in those where traces of the
PAH triad are found.
When we first learned to consider the appearance of the surroundings, meaning
massing, lights and shadows on rock formations and mountains, we found the
relations that led us to look for an explanation based on psychological
mechanisms and the rules of perception. (Bustamante 2004, 2005 a, 2005 b,
2005 d, 2006 a).
The question What does it look like? Is currently oriented towards the search
for mimetoliths and mimetomorphs when we observe an object or event in an
archaeological context (Bustamante 2008 a). This change in the question and
therefore in the validation criteria is coherent with what was indicated by
7.12 Euhemerism the origin of the gods.
In occident, the search
for a rational explanation, based on actual facts, beings or objects for the
origin of the gods finds its source in Euhemerus a Sicilian
Philosopher about 300 - 260 B.C.. His method of rationalization is known as Euhemerism, cited by Diodorus (1970), that treats mythological accounts as a reflection
of actual historical events shaped by retelling and traditional mores.
shows the mechanisms that transformed into gods certain celestial elements,
natural event, features in the landscape and others. This explains what Hume
indicates “We find human faces in the
moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity … ascribe malice or
good-will to everything that hurts or pleases us. Hence… trees, mountains and
streams are personified, and the inanimate parts of nature acquire sentiment
and passion.(David Hume, Natural History of Religion, p. 29, cited by Gutrie 2001).
Legend of Pirene.
Acording the Legend, “Pyrene is the nymph of classical mythology who gave its name to the
Pyrenees. The legend attempts to explain how a mountain range that was
worshipped as a god by the early inhabitants came to be. Heracles,
(Hércules) deeply moved by Pyrene’s tragic ending burned by the fire of Gerion, erected a mausoleum
over her dead body, by piling up all the stones and rocks he could find, thus
creating a great mountain range that he called the Pyrenees in memory of
Figure 9: Pyrenees as the body of Pirene.
The Pyrenees provide an example of the PAH triad in the geographic
surrounding. The mimetolith of Pirene has a total length of
400 km. Gerión was the founder of Gerona and the surrounding area of
Garrocha, a volcanic region (Pallí and Pujadas, 1999). The last eruption
dates back around 9,500 BP. This may explain the fire in the legend.
PAH triad still applies to modern discoveries, not only among common people,
but with world class scientists. It is a useful tool to explore the world,
but the religious and emotional connotations have changed. The following
examples show how this method is unconsciously applied in today´s science:
Astronomy, cosmic hand:
NASA inform in the article A Young Pulsar Shows Its Hand, (04.03.09) “At the center of this image made by NASA’s Chandra
X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58,
or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is
spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing
structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand”. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/photo09-025.html,
(Moyano, Bustamante, 2010, figure 6).
Medicine, hummingbird in brain:
Maranhão-Filho and Vincent (2009) says in the Conclusion “Various imaging techniques have developed
largely as useful diagnostic tools in modern medicine. Facing a multitude of
contrasts and forms, our brains naturally react trying to find familiar
patterns matching typical aspects of a certain disorder. This process is
similar to finding visual patterns in shadows and clouds, i.e. pareidolia. In
terms of neuroimaging, some disorders may present aspects that evoke animals
and suggest pareidolic denominations. Such visual illusions help memorization
and improve general diagnostic skills”.
Ecology, the face of mother
“Marine photographer and environmental lecturer
Michael Nolan captured the pictures while on an annual voyage to observe the
largest icecap in Norway Austfonna on July 16… describes it as …'Tears' in
the natural sculpture were created by a waterfall of glacial water falling
from one of the face's 'eyes'”.
10: a) Astronomy, NASA, the hand of god. b) Medicine, The hummingbird flying
in the brain (red circle). c) Mother Nature on Ice.
7.15 PAH as a
During field works, using
methods that were non aggressive to the site (meaning without major
interventions or disruptions such as digging) we found this phenomena in pre-columbian cultures first
in Chile (Choapa region), Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. Later, we found in
specialized literature traces of this coming from the 5 continents and from
all periods of history. Then the PAH triads appears to be a ubiquitous phenomena (Bustamante 2008 c).
Figure 11: Probable
ubiquity of the phenomena. Each red dot represent a site where we found PAH.
Pareidolia: it provides a way to be related to
the world, to interpret cosmics signs visualizing the sky and the land as if
they were a gigantic Rorschach test, contributing to the origin of Paleoart,
being Makapansgat cobble
its earliest manifestation, and the Mimetolith of Pan Gu the latest and most
complex (in relation to the period studied in this article).
The implications of Pareidolia include all 5
senses in the formulation of images. This can be observed in both humans and
animals. As a result of this process in humans, we found gods that arose from
the combination of this images and human emotions.
examples of pareidolia in animals indicate that it might be phenomena inherent
to living creatures, independent of the cerebral development.
Apophenia: it allows establishing relations between different beings, things
uncertain events, phenomena and others not directly related. When the observer
finds significant matches a Hierophany is produced, meaning, a feeling that what was observed is linked to sacred
The PAH Triad: A) it
provides a theory-perceptual frame that does not depends on altered states of
consciousness. It allows explaining in part the emergence of animism, religion
and art, by means of psychological phenomena inherent to all human beings, from
any period of history. B) it appears to be an ubiquitous
phenomena. C) It might be a precedent of science.
What does it look like?: This question applied
to archaeological contexts, permits a change in the paradigm, work
methodologies and validation techniques.
and Mimetomorphs: Seem to detonate the work
of the PAH triad.
Archaeology of the Entorno (Surroundings): Supplies a method to relate data from diverse fields such as culture,
geography, climatology, astronomy, psychology and biology among others.
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