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Publications, Film & Artistic Programs The Impact of Fossils Sojournus Antiquitus Pleistocene Coalition

The Impact of Fossils on the Development of
Visual Representation

By John Feliks (full-text html coming soon)

tn_fossils.p111.feliks1998.jpg     tn_fossils.p115.feliks1998.jpg     tn_fossils.p121.feliks1998.jpg

      “A fascinating argument that observations of plant and invertebrate fossils inspired the invention of rock art.”

- Adrienne Mayor, Fossil Legends of the First Americans

      “Absolutely riveting.

- Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a HatAwakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars


Feliks, J. 1998. The impact of fossils on the development of visual representation.
Rock Art Research 15: 109-34.

Abstract: The origins of visual representation have been debated primarily in terms of human activity and psychology. This paper proposes that man-made representation was preceded by a natural, already quite perfected representational system, the products of which were observed and collected by early humans. The author suggests the following new hypotheses: (1) Fossils were a means by which human beings came to understand the concepts of 'imagery' and 'substitution' prior to the creation of man-made images. (2) Humans evolved their own forms of iconic visual representation (especially those in the medium of rock), having first been made aware of various possibilities via fossils. (3) Many unexplained prehistoric artworks may be structurally and proportionally accurate depictions of fossils. Because fossils are known throughout the world, the hypotheses have cross-cultural validity. Clinical studies offer the potential of analogical testability.

Keywords: Iconic recognition, Depiction, Prehistoric art, Rock art sign, Fossil collecting


The Impact of Fossils was begun in 1993. tn_fossils.p122.feliks1998.jpgIt was submitted for publication in 1995 and twice again in 1997. Unfortunately, its new ideas and approaches were contrary to the agenda of a predisposed anthropology community determined to prevent its being published. The positive reviews from anonymous reviewers who chose to make their identities known were not enough to prevent it's being blocked from publication. It was during this time the author learned from leaders in the field that what is published in anthropology has little to do with quality science and more to do with fads or the programs of other researchers. This was also during a time when many researchers were jumping on an aggressively-promoted neurological bandwagon to which The Impact of Fossils offered an unanticipated "evidence-based" alternative. The Impact of Fossils was later submitted to a different journal and finally published in 1998, though with accompanying efforts by those promoting other theories or by those with vested interests to which Fossils offered a challenge. Within one year of publication, The Impact of Fossils was used as a page-by-page template for a competitor's paper submitted for publication in the very same journal and without proper citation - an experience which the author has had to endure on many other occasions as well.

UPDATE: The Impact of Fossils is an idea which has come of age. It has endured every preventative tactic that the academic community could muster and remains one of the only explanations for such as the origins of depiction in rock art which is supported by actual physical evidence observable in the archaeological record. (Coming soon: What scholars "really think" about The Impact of Fossils. Secret, behind-the-scenes, and buried-away accolades for an influential paper which, for political reasons, has effectively been blocked from public awareness for nearly 20 years.)

     Feliks' use of fossils offers a superb bridging argument... fossils appear to be the only external phenomena that happen to be referrer and referent rolled into one... This would solve one of the major problems in the development of human cognition.

- Robert G. Bednarik, The Earliest Evidence of Palaeoart, Rock Art Research 2003: 126

      Since it took 5 years for The Impact of Fossils to be published tn_s.antiquitus-feliks1996cufernsdrawing-joelwilson.jpgthe central thesis of the paper, the 'natural representations theory,' wound up being first presented in a live-performance multimedia program called Sojournus Antiquitus: Paleolithic Journeys through Time, Mind, and Space (Schoolcraft College, May 17, 18 & 19, 1996).

        The "natural representations theory" as it appeared front-projected in Sojournus Antiquitus (colored pencil on illustration board by Joel N. Wilson). 

Here are a few central ideas that were first presented in The Impact of Fossils and/or Sojournus Antiquitus:

1.) The 'natural representations theory' and 'self-contained referent/icons.' The case is presented that early peoples 250,000 years ago understood fossils as tn_fossils.p111.feliks1998.jpg"representations" of living forms in stone. Prior to The Impact of Fossils, the highest ability scientists adhering to the traditional ape-man paradigm had been willing to attribute to early peoples such as Homo erectus or Neanderthals was that these people could only conceive of fossils as mere interesting patterns. This view, as naive as it may sound in light of the new evidence, is essential to the long-promoted idea that early peoples were less intelligent than us.

The 'natural representations theory' has strong implications not only for understanding the artistic and language capabilities of early peoples but also for ideas regarding their philosophical abilities. tn_fossils.p115.feliks1998.jpgSupported by archaeological evidence spanning 250,000 years, this theory provides a means by which early people could have learned, in no uncertain terms, the idea that images of living things can exist in non-living materials. It also provides a means of understanding that one object can represent another. These ideas are at the very core of human analogy and metaphor.

Fig. 1 (above left): Living fern, fossil fern, and fern shadow: thesis version of the "natural representations theory" (figure by J. Feliks with graphic assistance from Shekinah Errington and Gerry Hermann). Fig. 2 (right): Demonstrating the central positioning of a fossil scallop shell ('natural representation' of a scallop) in a 250,000-year old handaxe.

2.) The earliest iconic image "framed" by a human being. The famous West Tofts handaxe from Norfolk, England had long been known to feature a fossil scallop shell in its center (Fig. 2, above right). It was in The Impact of Fossils, however, that the fossil was first proposed to have been understood as the "image" of a shell. It was also in this paper that the actual degree of the fossil shell's centering was first demonstrated in exacting detail as measured in two step-by-step geometric studies (click here for the West Tofts handaxe "step-by-step" geometric studies).

       Prior to these studies, it had long been debated whether or not the maker of the West Tofts handaxe even cared about the fossil let alone whether or not he/she might have recognized the fossil as the image of a shell. Scientists dedicated to the cognitive evolution paradigm (which depends on the assumption that early people were less intelligent than us) had never considered the possibility that fossils may have been understood as images or representations of living shells. In the case of the West Tofts handaxe, living scallop shells like that of the fossil in its center have always been abundant along the not-too-distant coastline. With the abundance of living scallop shells in mind, it is difficult to imagine that the person who created the handaxe would not have been intelligent enough to recognize that the fossil highlighted in its center was a scallop shell.

     The only scientific hypothesis of which I am aware concerning the West Tofts object, or indeed the entire issue [handaxes as palaeoart objects], is that presented by Feliks...He tested the centrality and symmetry of the West Tofts specimens's Spondylus spinosus cast [fossil scallop shell] by geometric means that lend themselves to refutation. His finding that the positioning is indeed significant and intentional is based on transparent data open to testing, and until someone presents falsifying data or proposes a more parsimonious hypothesis to account for Feliks' data, his hypotheses stands as the most likely explanation. Those wishing to promote the non-utilitarian aspects of other stone artefacts might profit from examining how Feliks approached the issue―not necessarily to copy his methodology, but to copy his philosophical basis...This may sound a little over-rigorous, but in view of our predilection for detecting evidence of intentionality it is fully warranted.

- Robert G. Bednarik, The Earliest Evidence of Palaeoart, Rock Art Research 2003: 122-3

3.) 'Race cryptomnesia' and 'fossil depictions theory.' I coined the term 'race cryptomnesia' to refer to the idea that an entire race of people, even an entire species, can forget the original sources of their inspirations be they mechanical, tn_fossils.p121.feliks1998.jpgartistic, or philosophical and believe instead that their innovations are entirely self-originated. (Cryptomnesia: forgetting the source of one's inspiration and attributing innovation to one's own self instead.) Rock art is irrevocably linked to pre-existing natural rock imagery - fossils - because it is contained in the same identical medium of expression. If other identically-shared traits are recognized between fossils and rock art, then it is important and logical to consider that the original earlier manisfestation was likely at one time or another both inspirational and influential.

       In a section called "The medium of rock as image field," the physical traits of rock art are compared with those of the natural pre-existing fossil imagery. Both rock art and the earlier-established fossil imagery share the following virtually identical traits (from p. 116 of The Impact of Fossils):

• the medium of rock
• a tangible quality (in contrast to other natural imagery such as shadows, reflections, etc.)
• the representation of three-dimensional objects free of surrounding matrix
• the representation of three-dimensional objects in bas relief
• images resulting from indentations in the medium
• the representation of three-dimensional objects in two dimensions
• two-dimensional representations of a filmic nature in a range of colors
• images in colors which are different from the “background” medium
• easily identifiable images
• images which are not easily identified
• an unorganized or randomly scattered appearance as concerns multiple images
• palimpsest effects [layering or overlapping] in the case of multiple images
• multiple images in a variety of shapes and sizes

      There are many other similarities between rock art and fossils. They are discussed in the full text of the paper which I hope to have posted soon.

      AMBIGUOUS ROCK ART IMAGES: Of particular interest in The Impact of Fossils are the many unique images in prehistoric rock art that have long been difficult to understand because they do not immediately appear to represent animals or human beings or any other well-known objects. These are geometric patterns and shapes such as zig-zags, spirals, circles, radiating patterns, etc., or combinations of these shapes. They are often referred to as “abstract signs” or “non-representational” markings. However, use of the terms "abstract" or "non-representational" presumes that prehistoric persons could not have seen these very patterns somewhere else and duplicate these patterns. In such a case, these duplicated patterns would be "representational" images or "likenesses" of other things rather than abstractions or non-representational markings. The Impact of Fossils proposes that many of these images painted or engraved on rock were made to be likenesses of other images already present on rock, fossils.

      POPULAR NEUROLOGICAL THEORIES AND THE FOSSILS ALTERNATIVE: Over the past 100 years many theories have been put forth in an attempt to explain these special images. The most popular explanations in recent years have involved various tn_fossils.p120.feliks1998.jpg neurological theories. These theories have often been promoted in overly-confident terms as though they account for most if not all abstract images in rock art.

The rock art images according to these neurological theories represent unconsciously experienced entoptic phenomena (visual sensations involving physical structures within the human eye) and especially phosphene patterns (visual sensations similar to hallucinations). One popular variant of the idea has proclaimed with equal confidence that shamans created the geometric images after going into altered states of consciousness. While these ideas are reasonable and may account for some instances of rock art, they cannot, of course, explain all occurrances as is commonly claimed by proponents of the theory. Further, as scientific as such theories might sound due to an often verbose use of neurological terminology, they are all based on the idea that there is nothing in the natural world that these geometric rock art images resemble.

However, readily apparent on rock surfaces is already every basic "entoptic" form imaginable. In Fig. 4 (above right), I demonstrate this with only three out of perhaps a hundred similar comparisons of prehistoric rock art images which have been confidently interpreted by neurological proponents as entoptic phenomena but which are more readily compared to fossils which have long been abundant in rock from the very regions in which the artworks were created. 

Neurological ideas in and of themselves are important to consider. However, adhering to such ideas at all costs has caused many researchers to attribute images such as those discussed on this page to what amounts to little more than a form of "automatic writing" where the artistic creators are assumed to have had no idea as to what they were actually doing. While it is possible that many abstract images may have been inspired by entoptic phenomena, The Impact of Fossils proposes that it is more reasonable to consider that inspirations for rock art came from physical images such as fossils readily-observed by everyone before considering the fleeting and esoteric nature of entoptic phenomena as a primary source.

THE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE: The Impact of Fossils is not just another speculation about what ambiguous rock art images could be because the idea is supported by the fact that prehistoric people have collected fossils for hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, we know without any scientific doubt that prehistoric people were already familiar with the geometric shapes and patterns inherent in the rocks before they started painting or engraving such images in the rocks themselves. With this information in mind, it is readily seen that the creators of rock art were not only aware of fossils but also valued fossils highly enough to collect them. In many cases, in fact, fossils were worn as personal ornaments.

The fossils that prehistoric people are known for certain to have collected include scallop shells, snails, and brachiopod shells; corals; sea urchins; crinoids; shark teeth; sponges; ammonites; and even trilobites. Here is a partial list of specific and precisely-identified fossils collected by prehistoric people (from The Impact of Fossils, page 112):

Fossils collected by ACHEULIANS [Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis] include, from England, Spondylus pelecypod and Conulus echinoid—central “ornaments” in two carefully-worked handaxes, Micraster echinoid—reworked into a scraper, two humanly-flaked sections of Isastraea colonial coral carried from a distant source, and a shark tooth (Oakley 1971, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1985); crinoid columnals possibly collected and worn as beads, Israel (Goren-Inbar et al. 1991); and Coscinopora (Porosphaera) sponges possibly worn as beads, England (Marshack 1991b). Fossils collected by MOUSTERIANS [Neanderthal people] include a large, turreted gastropod, Chemnitzia, and a spherical colonial coral, France (Leroi-Gourhan 1964); a Dentalium shell possibly worn as a personal ornament, France (Rigaud 1988; Marshack 1991a:380); reworked shark teeth, Belgium (Van Neer 1979; Huyge 1990), and another example from Afghanistan (Dupree 1972; White 1992); belemnites possibly reworked, Hungary (Vértes 1964; Oakley 1978) and a reworked Nummulites (large foraminifer), Hungary (Vértes 1964; Marshack 1990; Bednarik 1995). Fossils collected by CHATELPERRONIANS [Neanderthal people] include a Rhynchonella brachiopod reworked as a personal ornament, a perforated belemnite, and crinoid columnals presumably worn as beads (Leroi-Gourhan 1961, 1964; Movius 1969; d’Errico et al. 1998), Glycymeris pelecypod, Ancillaria, Athleta, Bayana, Clavillithes, Crommium, Sycum, Turritella, and Tympanotonos (Potomides) gastropods, France (Taborin 1993a). Fossils collected by AURIGNACIANS [Homo sapiens, Neanderthal people] and other early Upper Paleolithic people since about 38,000 BP include belemnites and corals reworked for suspension as personal ornaments, Russia (White 1992; 1993a, 1993b). From the Aurignacian onward, examples of fossil collecting are far too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that ammonites; belemnites; scaphopods; gastropods; pelecypods; brachiopods; crinoids, echinoids, and other echinoderms; corals; sponges; foraminifera; wood; shark teeth; and even a trilobite were all collected—many reworked and presumably worn as personal ornaments (See the works of Oakley, Taborin, Soffer, White, Lejeune, David, Dance, Marshack, Leroi-Gourhan, and others).

ARTISTIC SENSIBILITY: Although they may seem scientific, theories that diminish the artistic ability and volition of early peoples often result in strained beliefs which are far from the reality of what prehistoric people, especially prehistoric artists, were actually like. Attempting to force all tn_fossils.p121.feliks1998.jpgpurportedly 'abstract' images into the realm of entoptic phenomena and unconscious creation ignores entirely the artist's freedom to create from imagination or to create deliberate representations of whatsoever he or she might choose. Scientific attempts in general to break down the nature of artistic sensibility and achievement into the most basic and meaningless components of any given scientific specialty then claiming to understand the art in the process are scientifically and artistically naive and are ususally associated with over-specialization or a pre-committment to the idea that early peoples were less intelligent than modern people. The idea that humans gradually become more and more intelligent over time (the standard central premise in palaeoanthropology) necessitates a belief that early peoples must have also been less artistically-capable which belief is a primary motivation for entoptic theories of early art. This idea is proved false with Fossils as well as the other anthropology papers on this website.

When evidence such as The Impact of Fossils challenges the cognitive evolution paradigm the data is often held back from public scrutiny. There are many instances of this and not regarding the publication of Fossils only. This usually occurs first by means of the "peer review system" where an unaccountable anonymous review board can successfully block from publication not only papers but any data which is problematic to a comfortable paradigm. The public is taught that anonymous peer review is the method of science. However, behind-the-scenes data hinderence such as occurred with The Impact of Fossils creates a false impression in the public mind that there is no evidence against the standard paradigm they are constantly inundated with and it also creates a false impression that the prehistoric mind is well-understood by the scientific community and that it is agreed-upon to be much less capable, that is, "simpler," than that of modern Homo sapiens. Again, this kind of naivety in science is due almost entirely to specialization and a general lack of artistic training or sensibility as balancing agents.

When the public is not permitted to know about challenging data it is quite easy to convince them that certain ideas such as the above-mentioned neurological theories are "obviously" correct only because they are not even aware that conflicting data exists.tn_fossils.p123crop.feliks1998.jpgtn_fossils.p122.feliks1998.jpg If you, as a reader, pride yourself in an ability to think objectively, then consider whether all evidence should be available for perusal or only chosen evidence for the sake of promoting a particular paradigm. In other words, being unaware of challenging evidence, the public has been convinced by the efforts of a pre-committed scientific community that early people were less intelligent than us, an impression caused by a forced inability to use the right of free and objective thinking.

This type of problem does not occur in other sciences but is quite common in anthropology where, since the subject relates to human origins, the stakes are 'politically' high. In this field, reviewers and editors are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that only certain ideas are disseminated. It is not true science. Rather, it is an agenda-based philosophical system promoted by large institutions with the advantage of being able to withhold evidence from the public in order to make a chosen paradigm appear unchallenged.

In many cases, the unusual images created by prehistoric people and suggested here to have been inspired by fossils have been painted on rock surfaces in areas that already contain natural rock images - fossils. The prehistoric images resemble these fossils to a high degree. In other words, the rock art images can be directly compared with fossils of the very regions in which the rock art images were created. See, for instance, the rock paintings compared with trilobites in Fig. 5, above left. The detailed and measured close-up studies of three of these trilobite comparisons in Fig. 6, above right (fully detailed geographically in the text), and the map of locations in Spain where both trilobite fossils and trilobite-like prehistoric rock paintings are found (above right, Fig. 7) make the 'fossil depictions theory' accessible to anyone who has not been pre-programmed to believe in a single simplistic view and who is able to critically evaluate empirical data on their own. At the very least, the critical thinker should be able to see that a scientific community which blocks empirical data from the public likely does so not for reasons of science or academic quality but for reasons of defending old or personal paradigms.


Feliks, J. 2012. Five constants from an Acheulian compound line. Aplimat - Journal of Applied Mathematics 5 (1): 69-74.

Feliks, J. 2012. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 7: Who were the people of Bilzingsleben. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 4 (Issue 4): 12-14.

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Feliks, J. 2012. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 6: The Lower Paleolithic origins of advanced mathematics. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 4 (Issue 3): 12-13.

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Feliks, J. 2012. 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda: A superb classic film for teaching critical thinking attitude and skills. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 4 (Issue 2): 17.

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Feliks, J. 2012. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 5: Gestalten. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 4 (Issue 2): 11-13.

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Feliks, J. 2012. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 4: 350,000 years before Bach. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 4 (Issue 1): 10-12.

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Feliks, J. 2011. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 3: Base grids of a suppressed Homo erectus knowledge system. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 3 (Issue 6): 12-14.

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Feliks, J. 2011. The golden flute of Geissenklosterle: Mathematical evidence for a continuity of human intelligence as opposed to evolutionary change through time. Aplimat - Journal of Applied Mathematics 4 (4): 157-62.

Feliks, J. 2011. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 2: Censoring the world's oldest human language. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 3 (Issue 5): 12-14.

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Feliks, J. 2011. The graphics of Bilzingsleben series: Scientific misconduct over ancient artifact studies and why you should care: Part 1: Proof of straight edge use by Homo erectus. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 3 (Issue 4): 14-16.

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Feliks, J. 2010. The golden flute of Geissenklosterle: Preview of APLIMAT 2011 paper. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 2 (Issue 6): 10.

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Feliks, J. 2010. Phi-based conceptual units: Pushing math origins back to the Acheulian age. [Internet]. Available on SCIENAR at: http:/

Feliks, J. 2010. Ardi: How to create a science myth. Pleistocene Coalition News Vol. 2 (Issue 1): 1-3.

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Feliks, J. 2010 (in press). The graphics of Bilzingsleben: Sophistication and subtlety in the mind of Homo erectus. Proceedings of the XV UISPP World Congress (Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006), BAR International Series, Oxford.

Feliks, J. 2009. A Lot of Gold in the Mix: Review of Fragment from a Nonfiction Reader. Pre-publication review of the debut science thriller by Warren Fahy (see quotation on the author's review page under FRAGMENT: Reviews).

Feliks, J. 2009. The handaxe shape in microliths. Comment on "Is a hand ax really a hand ax," by Michael Balter. Origins: a history of beginnings [Internet]. Available at:

Feliks, J. 2008. Phi in the Acheulian: Lower Palaeolithic intuition and the natural origins of analogy. In Bednarik, R. G. and D. Hodgson (eds), Pleistocene palaeoart of the world, pp. 11-31. Proceedings of the XV UISPP World Congress (Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006), BAR International Series 1804, Oxford.*

Feliks, J. 2006. Musings on the Palaeolithic fan motif. In P. Chenna Reddy (ed.), Exploring the mind of ancient man: Festschrift to Robert G. Bednarik, 249-66. Research India Press, New Delhi.

*(BAR is British Archaeological Reports.)


        John Feliks is an interdisciplinary scholar and theorist researching early human cognition for the past 15 years. Along with the science, he offers an inside perspective based on an extensive background in the arts. Feliks's recent work involves language and mathematics capability in Homo erectus and other early peoples which he demonstrates empirically through openly-testable geometric analyses of engraved artifacts, artifact distributions, and stone tools. In all, the results of Feliks's research greatly contrast the long-accepted standard model of gradually-evolving intelligence in the genus Homo. They suggest instead that early peoples such as Homo erectus, ergaster, Neanderthals, and heidelbergensis were just as capable as anyone living in today's modern world.


       This Fossils-only page is new and in the process of tweaking, so please be patient as it goes through changes in wording or layout. I am hoping to get the main site up and running soon. The site will offer several hundred systematic geometric studies produced over a fifteen-year period which demonstrate that early peoples such as Homo erectus and Neanderthals had artistic and intellectual capabilities equal to our own. It will also offer original color slides from the two programs presented at the XVth UISPP Congress in Lisbon, September 7, 2006.

E-mail: feliks (at)
Last updated November 24, 2014. © John Feliks 2009