News from Temixwten: First positively-identified Neolithic Asian ceramic tool found in North America!
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|Temixwten Artifact: 45-WH-5-1483
Description: THIS FACINATING PIECE does not reveal itself at one glance.
Initially, 45-WH-5-1483 simply looks like a large knife or a grooveless hand axe -- sometimes called a celt -- made of cut and polished black nephrite.
But closer examination reveals that this is actually not a real blade intended for real cutting use because the nicely beveled and polished facets are rolled at the edge, as is the point.
Furthermore, although 45-WH-5-1483 has been broken off on one end, there is no visual evidence of wear on the axe edge at all. A great deal of tedious stone sawing, polishing and incising work went into this piece, but it was never intended or used as a physical tool.
Why? That's because Temixwten artifact 45-WH-5-1483 is a conceptual tool, not a physical tool. I believe the purpose here is the imagery that covers both sides, not the edge. So 45-WH-5-1483 might be more accurately described as a stone tablet in the form of a black jade blade or hand axe.
However, compared to some of the exquisite ceremonial celts and blades from Temixwten in The Museum of the Salish Collection -- such as 45-WH-5-1182 -- 45-WH-5-1483 doesn't look like much... until you turn the blade to the light just right, and then suddenly a sgraffito gloss-on-mat image leaps out at you.
The image that emerges on Side 2 of 45-WH-5-1483 looks like an assortment of common, easily recognizable animal heads. On the right, isolated by itself, there is an upside down bird head that looks like a Western grebe. And on the left there are several animal heads nested together, most prominently a pointy-nosed rodent that look like a vole, and behind it the head of a fork-tongued snake or dragon that is blowing out a puff of smoke.
A great deal of fine stone incising work has been done just below the tip of the upside down bird's head, and all around the head of the point-nosed rodent. These marks are vigorous swirling free-form and sometimes wavy parallel lines that give the impression of... a turbulent sea, strong currents and coastal surf around an island and a facing peninsula.
I believe this is, in fact, what 45-WH-5-1483 depicts: a particular place and a particular seascape -- a particular strait, a particular island and a particular peninsula -- all couched in the form of animal head mnemonics to aid recognition and recollection in the time before the written word was invented.
And wherever this place was/is, it was very important to the people who made this black jade object. This is plainly apparent from the fact that animal head montage covers one whole side of a large ceremonial celt. The importance of the image is further underscored by the fact that the same image -- of the pointy-nosed rodent head, etc. -- appears again in miniature on the other side of 45-WH-5-1483.
Comparing this Neolithic scene on 45-WH-5-1483 to the modern Google Earth satellite map of the Bering Strait reveals that this ancient Asian-made map blade contains a pretty fair representation of the North American side of the Bering Strait, one that is couched in animal head mnemonics, but which is certainly good enough to navigate the terrain by.
From this perspective, the scene depicted on the Temixwten artifact 45-WH-5-1483 represents a compressed, foreshortened view from the headlands on the Asiatic side of the Bering Strait, looking east toward America from the place of leaving Asia. It shows the coastline of Alaska's Brooks Peninsula with Port Clarence (the pointy-nosed vole), and the colossal Serpent in the distance on the horizon is the Yukon River, with Nunivak Island (the puff of smoke). Off to the right, the odd looking island (the upside down grebe head) is St. Lawrence Island.
Furthermore, St. Lawrence Island is known for its tremendous population of sea birds, including Western grebes, which are drawn to the waters around the island by the Anadyr Current, which would be the strongly incised currents depicted off the point of the grebe's beak on 45-WH-5-1483! In the same vein, Alaska's Seward Peninsula is known for its vole population, both the sheer numbers and the variety of vole species, which includes the elusive Singing Vole.
And here's one more curious detail. A short section of the edge bevel between the upside down bird's head and the vole head has been polished to a shiny gloss, so when you view the scene on Side 2, it shines in the light.
In the time before the written word was invented -- which apparently did not occur in China until at least 3,000 years after this ceremonial black jade blade was manufactured -- images of known creatures like grebes and voles and snakes would have been the lingua franca of a scattered, linguistically fragmented people.
So the Bering Strait Blade Map of Temixwten says to anyone with eyes, no matter what their language: "You will come to a strait that looks like this. On the crossing, you will pass the beak end of an island that looks like an upside down Western grebes' head. There are many grebes there, and strong currents off the point of the bird's beak.
"On the far side of the strait, you will come to a peninsula that looks like a pointy-nosed voles' head. There are many voles there, but also strong surf and currents all along this coast. Stand off and steer toward the shining (the sun) and you will come to the mouth of a great snake, meaning the mouth of a great river.
"You will know the snake by its size, the long tongue of the silt plume it that pours out its mouth into the sea, and by the island there." At this point, the Bering Strait Blade Map of Temixwten breaks off, but by then its purpose was served.
Someone who made this great journey out of Asia --probably an ancestor of the Salish -- carried this ceremonial map blade with them as their guide, and then left it at Temixwten, 2,000 miles into North America.
And so even though its initial appearance may be modest, the significance of Temixwten artifact 45-WH-5-1483 -- called the Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten -- is immense.
45-WH-5-1483 is both the oldest known map of North America, and the first concrete evidence that at least SOME Paleo-Indian immigrants came to the New World as part of planned colonial ventures -- you don't carry a map unless you planned to make the trip!
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NOW TURN the blade over. Here a dark, glossy line that arcs across a large part of the blade. This dark line connects to a thicker, blacker, glossy area that runs to the tip of the blade.
The thick black area looks like a crude Chinese dragon with bat wings on its shoulders and a long arcing column of smoke coming out of the top of its head. Together, they trace -- again with fair accuracy -- the coastline of eastern Asia from Okhotsk all the way to the Bering Strait, with the area between Kamchatka and the Bering Strait emphasized with the heavy glossy black body of the the dragon.
Roy L. Carlson traces the Salish pebble tool tradition to the area "around Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk" in Wayne Suttles's Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7, Northwest Coast, and Temixwten artifact 45-WH-5-1483 further pinpoints the mouth of the Okhota River near the modern town of Okhotsk, Russia, as the probable starting point of the Salishan People's great journey to Temixwten.
So with this two-sided Neolithic map blade in hand, a Paleo-Indian immigrant from Asia to the New World had a guide from the Sea of Okhostk to the Bering Strait, and from there a blowup (as we would now call it) of the Bering Strait crossing and the North American Coastline south to the mouth of the Yukon River.
* * *
INTERESTINGLY, the same configuration of animal heads seen on Side 2 is also offered -- and reemphasized -- at the upper right hand corner of Side 1.
Here again we see a gloss-on-mat sgraffito rendering of the pointy snouted rodent and the upside down bird head at the upper point of the blade, where it broke. The repetition of this motif clearly says: Don't forget these details; they are important (they're the Bering Strait crossing).
So which ever way you go, when you come to the point of the Asian Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten, you come to the Asiatic side of Bering Strait. And if you flip the map blade over, the point again represents the Asiatic side of the Bering Strait, leading on this side of the map blade into North America, not Asia.
What a fascinating discovery in terms of hidden Neolithic expressions embedded in modern language! This Neolithic mapping convention involving the point of the map blade may reveal the deep roots of the colloquial expression -- "to come to the point."
So as with another Temixwten map blade -- regal, ceramic crystal glaze encrusted 45-WH-5-1558 -- when you come to the point of the map blade, you come to your destination, in this case the crucial passage place where you cross into the New World.
* * *THIS MAP blade is relatively large, measuring roughly five inches by a little less than three inches.
The substantial nature of like 45-WH-5-1483 indicates that the people who brought it to Temixwten weren't worried about the weight they carried.
And the only way that could be true is if they came by boat -- not just across the Bering Strait, as 45-WH-5-1483 depicts -- but all the way down the Northwest Coast of North America.
This thought is further buttressed by the presence of other heavy objects carried out of Asia to Temixwten by the ancestors of the Salish, such as ceramic stoneware cores like 45-WH-5-1656.
* * *
THERE IS MORE. Some of the techniques employed in the manufacture of 45-WH-5-1483 are almost as surprising as the imagery on the blade.
The Museum of the Salish employed Microtrace, a leading materials testing facility, to identify both the underlying material and the black surface imagery in 45-WH-5-1483.
Using electron miscroscopy, Microtrace found that 45-WH-5-1483 is made of nephrite, a close relative of jade. The black surface areas are composed of some sort of carbonized material, which is consistent with the ancient ceramic proto-glazing technique known as black firing -- except in the case of 45-WH-5-1483 the material that has been black fired is natural stone, not ceramic stoneware.
It appears that this ceremonial celt was polished all over, black fired in a kiln, and then incised to create areas with a slightly lighter, mat finish that contrast with the sections of highly polished black nephrite in a way that resembles burnished, gloss-on-mat black pottery.
Polished nephrite is quite common at Temixwten, and there are other map blades in The Museum of the Salish Collection as well, but I have only seen one other piece from Temixwten that uses this same highly incised gloss-on-mat sgraffito technique.
Although it represents an isolated example at Temixwten, 45-WH-5-1483 calls into question a fundamental assumption of conventional Neolithic archaeology -- namely that proto-glazing and glazing techniques developed alongside or after the development of ceramic stoneware in northeast Asia.
45-WH-5-1483 suggests that the reverse could be true: that Neolithic people may have started crudely decorating, proto-glazing and firing natural stone BEFORE they started crudely decorating and firing synthetic, manmade stone, i.e. ceramic stoneware.
* * *
Like many Neolithic works, 45-WH-5-1483 has what appear to be various layers of changes or additions. For instance, the toe of the Kamchatka Peninsula is missing from the Sea of Okhotsk Map side, but it looks like it was originally there and was chiseled off later to turn the stub of Kamchatka into the lower jaw of a Chinese dragon.
There are also diamond X snakeskin patterns inscribed on the Sea of Okhotsk side and pictograph markings, some of which resemble the pictographs in Early Art of the Northern Far East: The Stone Age by M.A. Kiriyak, as well as the snakeskin cross-hatch on 45-WH-5-1647 and 45-WH-5-1205.
* * *
NOTE: The Asian Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten is the oldest known map of North America, easily besting its nearest competitor, the Vineland Map of the Vikings, by approximately five millennia.
Technology: Stone sawing, polishing, incising, chiseling
Microtrace data shows the Raman spectrum for 45-WH-5-1483 closely matches the Ruff reference spectrum for nephrite, strongly indicating that this blade is made of nephrite or jade.
Approximate Age: 6,500 years ago
Basis for Age Estimate: I base this age estimate on the appearance of the Chinese dragon, the use of pseudo-black fired pottery sgraffito techniques, as well as the workmanship and finish of the stone cutting and polishing work on 45-WH-5-1483.
Provenance: Collected at Temixwten by the property owner. Museum of the Salish Collection.
Animal Head Mnemonics: Side 2 of this map blade shows the view of a water-borne crossing at the narrowest part of the Bering Strait from the Asiatic side, in the guise of animal heads to aid recognition and memory in the time before the written language.
On the left is a point in the form of a rodent head, and in the distance a bay in the form of a forked-tongued Serpent that is breathing out an island as a puff of smoke. On the right is an island the looks like an upside down bird’s head.
The rodent head is the tip of the Seward Peninsula. The Serpent’s mouth is the mouth of the Yukon River with Nunivak Island. And the upside down bird’s head is St. Lawrence Is. Whoever made this made startling and important map blade knew the Bering Strait crossing from Asia to North America well.
Above: The “upside down bird head” – apparently a grebe – on the Asian Bering Strait Blade Map of Temixwten and a Google Earth map of St. Lawrence Is.
Above: The “pointy-nosed rodent head” on the Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten – apparently a vole – and the Google Earth Map of the Seward Peninsula.
Serpent Head: the Serpent head on the Bering Strait Blade Map of Temixwten and a Google Earth map of the mouth of the Yukon River. The 6,500 year old Bering Strait Blade Map of Temixwten is actually the more accurate of the two since it accurately shows the Yukon silt plume extending far out into Bristol Bay, while Google Earth does not.
The Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten: This map blade is either a route map showing Paleo-Indian colonists how to get to the New World, or a story stone recording their Great Journey. These colonists from Asia made a late water crossing into the New World, and may be the ancestors of the Salish. This side of the Bering Strait Map Blade of Temixwten shows the coastline of northeast Asia from Okhotsk to the Bearing Strait in the form of a dragon with what appears to be smoke coming out of the top of his head. The point of the blade is the Asiatic side of the Bering Strait.
Pullout -- Side 1 of the Bering Strait Blade Map. Click to enlarge.
The Raman spectrum for 45-WH-5-1483 indicates that this blade is made of nephrite or jade. Click to enlarge.
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