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Effigy-Like & Charmstone Shapes

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  • Effigy-Like & Charmstone Shapes


    These items, which you might mistake for some kind of club (if large) or charmstone (if small), are completely natural. They’re known as “sand spikes” and normally form in silt deposits as fine sand concretions cemented by calcite. The circumstances in which they are found may also falsely suggest that they have been deliberately buried in caches. Frequently you will find them in numerous clusters in secondary Pleistocene deposits, with the spike ends pointing away from an older formation they have been washed out of… sometimes hundreds of them, all uniformly oriented in a horizontal position, parallel to the boundary of an ancient shoreline.

    They’re very common in the Colorado Desert area of California, particularly in Imperial Valley around the foothills of Mount Signal, but you’ll find them anywhere that an ancient lake or inland sea has dried out or dropped in level. These examples were formed when Lake Le Conte (also known as Lake Cahuilla) in California began drying out.

    [Pic from article by SC Edwards in “Rocks -and- Minerals”, June 1934]

    Despite the external appearance, the calcite crystals are oriented in a different manner in the head than in the tail. They’re definitely concreted and not formed by dripping water in the manner of a stalactite. They often have pebbles or pieces of silicified wood in the bulbous end, acting as a nucleus. You can see the concentric deposition rings in some of the spike heads below:

    [pic from Oddities of the Mineral World - Van Nostrand Reinhold Company]

    Depending on how calcited they are, they range from fragile to extremely hard. Certainly hard enough in some instances to be used as an implement if so desired, but use-wear would be evident if that is the case. They are sometimes found in burial contexts in California (both funerary and ritual) but with no evidence of having been used as tools.
    Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 09:33 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2

    Pictures (edited) by member [parsonian] on the Fossil Forum.

    These curious small hexagonal plates have nothing to do with currency, nor any relationship to Native Americans. “Indian Pennies” is just a nickname given to these natural mineralogical pieces in the main find area of Wyoming.

    They’re pseudomorphs of either calcite or dolomite after aragonite. A pseudomorph is formed when one mineral is forced to adopt the crystal shape of another because it has filled a cavity left behind by the original mineral which has either decomposed, eroded away or been converted to something else. In this case we have either calcite or dolomite in crystal shapes which would otherwise not occur in nature since they are not the customary shape for those minerals.

    They are found principally in a gypsum bed at the base of the Triassic Chugwater Formation and on top of the uppermost limestone of the Permian-Triassic Embar Formation northeast of Lovell in Big Horn County, Wyoming. Also along the southwest fringe of Bighorn Mountains.

    Sometimes, erosion by acidic groundwater causes one surface of the crystal to develop a cross shape that stands out in relief. The specimen on the left below shows this kind of erosion:

    From a review of “Field Guide to the Rocks and Minerals of Wyoming” by William H Wilson (August 1965) in Bulletin 51 of “The Geological Survey of Wyoming” by Horace D Thomas (State Geologist).
    Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 09:35 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


    • #3

      Pareidolia is a human phenomenon – a type of apophenia whereby patterns are falsely perceived in random data. In the case of visual pareidolia, it manifests itself as random patterns or shapes being perceived as significant such that they are imagined to be something which they are not. The imagined “man in the moon” is a common example, but people imagine faces in cloud formations, the image of Jesus in pieces of burnt toast. Did you know there is a fifth face at Mount Rushmore for example?:

      See anything here?:
      Click image for larger version

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      Pareidolia is common in situations where it involves humour and the resemblances are not taken seriously, but in extreme cases may potentially be related to psychological conditions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

      Rorschach Ink-Blots

      If you were to produce your own ink-blots – as children often do by folding a piece of paper with a blob of paint or ink in the centre – you would almost certainly get a pattern that resembles a butterfly or a bird. It’s a random pattern but it will have a bilateral symmetry and a spread of the ink suggestive of wings. In 1921, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach adapted this principle to create the “Rorschach test” where insight to a person’s mental state is diagnosed by showing 10 ink-blots one at a time and asking the patient to describe what can be seen. In the test however, the ink-blots have been carefully designed not to resemble anything in particular.

      Facial Recognition in Humans

      Carl Sagan has suggested that the human brain is “hard-wired” from birth to identify faces from birth as a survival technique and that humans are consequently able to identify faces using only minimal details and can do so at distance even in poor light conditions. That ability may well be related to the tendency to focus on anything in a random pattern which has facial resemblances.

      Making Sense of Chaos

      Bustamante et al have suggested that – in combination with apophenia (identifying meaningful patterns in randomness) and hierophany (a manifestation of the sacred), pareidolia may have helped early societies make the world around them intelligible.

      Some Examples

      Here on the forum, all kinds of natural but odd-shaped rocks are posted which are imagined to be artefacts – usually effigy forms of animals but all kinds of other things too – against all the evidence to suggest otherwise. Here’s a bunch of examples posted previously (some taken seriously by the finders and some not):

      One thing to note that often characterizes these items (apparent in some of those examples above) is the degree to which any supposed resemblance to faces or animal forms is dependent on some kind of pattern or inclusion which is internal to the rock. That’s especially true of inclusions believed to represent eyes. Any belief that such items have been knapped to an effigy form is rather undermined when it is clear that those features would not have been visible to any knapper until after the rock had been broken open.
      Whether odd-shaped and interesting natural rocks were collected or enhanced somewhat and kept by ancient people is a matter for conjecture. The probable answer is “yes”, given that such items have occasionally been found as grave goods, but that’s the exception rather than the rule and any argument for “curation” is critically dependent on context.
      Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 09:41 AM.
      I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


      • #4

        Origin of the Term

        “Pierre figures” (figures-pierres) were first proposed by the French archaeologist Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes – who is usually referred to as “Boucher de Perthes”. The term has spread to find usage elsewhere – sometimes with a belief that “Pierre” was a person and sometimes incorrectly using the term “Pierre stones”. The name actually derives from the French word for rock or stone: “pierre”.

        Boucher de Perthes was the first person to establish the existence of man in the Pleistocene or early Quaternary period, correctly attributing the worked flints he found to the presence of early man in Europe. He first found such items around 1830 during excavations in the Somme valley of France but his theories were not accepted since the evidence was deemed lacking. From 1847 he began publishing a monumental three volume work laying out additional evidence but the illustrations in the book were badly executed and unconvincing to his critics. Here are some examples from his original illustrations:

        Drawings from “Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes”

        Worse still, the books also included illustrations of many stone “sculptures” which he imaginatively claimed to be representations of the heads of birds and humans or other animal forms. The consensus at the time was (and still is today) is that these were just broken and tumbled pieces of stone from the gravel beds. These pieces are what came to be known as “pierre figures” and the name is now also applied to similar items in other countries and particularly when they are claimed as evidence of “early man” in improbable circumstances or with unlikely dates. Here’s some examples from his original illustrations:

        Drawings from “Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes”

        To quote Gamble (2008) “…His credibility was low. His problem lay not in the many hundreds of genuine handaxes he had found, but in his exaggerated claims for ancient flint “sculptures” of horses, bears and humans. In fact these were all natural shapes; his claims laughable.”

        Boucher de Perthes’ human occupation of Europe theories (but not the pierre figure claims) finally gained credence in 1858/9 when Hugh Falconer personally saw what he had collected and persuaded Sir Joseph Prestwich to visit the locality. Today, some of the hand-axes he found are generally accepted as at least 500,000 years old and probably of Neanderthal origin.

        His credentials suffered another blow when a human jaw (the so-called “Moulin-Quignon jaw”) found in association with the claimed worked flints in 1863 was established to be a hoax. It had been planted by one of Boucher de Perthes' workers in response to an offer of a reward of 200 Francs for anyone finding human remains.

        Modern Viewpoint and Proponents

        There are many people today in both Europe and America (often with websites devoted to the subject) making the same kinds of claim made by Boucher de Perthes. Many refer to these items as “palaeo-art” or “portable palaeo-art”. The mainstream archaeological consensus is that such claims have little or no credence and that the proponents of the theories are on the fringes of the archaeological community. In many cases they are not archaeologists at all and have no formal training or qualifications in any appropriate or relevant field.

        Others, more rationally, promote the idea that we should give at least some of these claims a more considered and unbiased second look. Richard Wilson is perhaps the most rational commentator and he has this to say on his own website ( about some of more esoteric alternative archaeology sites:

        “… instead of solely focusing on Figure-stones on the website I’ve decided to use the subject of Pierre-Figures to demonstrate some of the problems with the “palaeoart record” (or at least the record presented by the mainstream archaeologists and press) as I perceive them. I do this for two main reasons. Firstly to counteract the massive distortion that is in place in the mainstream media and secondly to counteract the effect of the aforementioned websites that have quite frankly largely served to reinforce the view held by the majority of the archaeology community that people who find “faces” and “images” in stones and attribute these to early humans are totally mistaken and/or crazy.”

        You can read his paper; “Cultural cobbles or a load of old cobblers? The detection of iconography and identification of artefactuality in lithics” here (but you need to register with to download it):

        To quote him again:

        “… reviewing the Pierres-Figures story it is apparent that there may already exist ample evidence to support the contention that iconography was created by enhancing or accentuating natural forms, in other words management of visual ambiguity… The Pierres-Figures warrant further consideration; until such time, it cannot be claimed that a thorough and systematic survey for the traces of portable palaeoart has been carried out…. The identification of iconography from Upper Palaeolithic sites and contexts is readily accepted in contrast to the resistance against images identified from Lower and Middle Palaeolithic contexts… there were processes at work above and beyond those that can be comfortably attributed to fortuity. The persistence and consistency of iconography identified co-occurring with intentional flaking and marking refutes the null hypothesis that they are purely a manifestation of pareidolia.”
        Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 09:43 AM.
        I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


        • #5
          Thumb "Effigy". hahahah Natural Siltstone, Peace River, FL
          Professor Shellman
          Tampa Bay