It now seems that even well before our archaic ancestors started to produce works of art, they too used readymades. At least 2 million years ago our Hominid ancestors collected rocks that resembled for example faces or animals. These objects have been found across the world in early hominid sites and has been called Manuports.
According to Australian archaeologist and rock art scholar Robert G. Bednarik : “Manuports are unmodified objects transported and deposited by hominids, and they are distinguished by being of a usually striking material clearly foreign to the sediment containing the occupation deposit they occur in.” (Ref)
One such example is the Makapansgat pebble. It is a 260-gram jasperite cobble with natural chipping and wear patterns that make it look like a human face. The pebble, found some distance from any possible natural source, was in the possession of a female Australopithecus africanus. The pebble was not a manufactured object, but it was possibly recognized it as a symbolic face, and treasured as such. This would make it the oldest known sculpture, or manuport. (Bradshaw Foundation)
Australopithecus africanus was an early hominid, living between 3 and 2 million years ago – in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene, thought to be a direct ancestor of modern humans.
But is it Art?
Who among us haven’t at some stage carried home a rock, a stick or something because we saw in it a face, or an animal; looked at clouds and saw a dragon?
This ability is called Pareidolia and is what happens when we see images in the famous psychological inkblot test. Interestingly, this ability is something we share with other animals. Research has found that it does not depend on the size of the brain. For example;
“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” Steward Guthrie
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to see how this may have been how we started to create art, invent technology, and attach spiritual significance to to certain mountains, events or places, or a mechanism to understand the cosmos.
This also connects to the theory that rock art is a depiction of what shamans saw in their trances or how entoptic motifs, turns into iconic images.
If you watch the documentary How Art Made the World Part 2 – The Day Pictures were Born , you can see more about that.
To this day before we can create anything, something else must first spark our imagination.
Pareidolia (psychological phenomenon): involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Psychological phenomenon related to the Rorschach test.
Apophenia (psychological 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.
Mimetolith (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).
Mimetomorph (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.
Mimetolith Modified (M-m): Natural shape altered by human beings.
Mimetomorph Modified (Mm-m): Natural shape altered by human beings.