The Goblin Skull;
or, Australopithecus & Me

Jessica Amanda Salmonson


Some years ago a lover dropped by with her hands cupped together & a serious expression on her face; she was in fact in her usual mood, & I've always been attracted to dour things. She said, "I want to give you something that I greatly love, but you may not agree it is of any interest, so if you don't like it I would be grateful if you didn't accept it from me. It's okay if you don't agree how special this is, I just thought maybe you'd have the same sentiment toward this as do I."

I promised that being the obnoxiously honest rotter that I am, I would have no trouble telling her it was a foolish thing if indeed I thought it was foolish thing. Though of course I wouldn't've done anything of the sort, as I did want to get laid before the night was over. She opened her cupped hands & in it was a pebble. I thought she was going to say "snatch the pebble out of my hand grasshopper" but as I bent down to look at the little stone in her long dark hand, I saw that it was a piece of jasper that had once been partially imbedded in white marble; that much of the marble had worn away to reveal the red jasper within. It had a white cranium, two deep jasper-red eyes, a concave nose, & a grimacing red gash of a mouth lined with white teeth.

It was the skull of a miniature goblin.

She'd found it when she was a kid walking along a beach. She'd treasured it all the years since. Then it became mine & I still have it displayed among strange small things such as a "bottle" made out of two medieval coins from India, a 5000+ year old tiny glass jar that was probably a kohl container, teensy Buddhisattvas, a Chinese brass gem-weigher in the shape of a fu-lion, African "face" pots the size of kids' marbles, an ancient Assyrian wick lamp, an owl's beaked skull, & a plastic Hello Kitty.

People have been saving strange small rocks since before people were people. In a three million year old Australopithecus site in southern Africa (the Makapansgat site) there was found a small round pebble that had been saved by this early hominid because it had two deep holes that looked exactly like simian eyes, over a wide gash like a lipless mouth. There is no evidence Australopithecus knew how to fashion tools or shape works of art, yet this early hominid could recognize art in nature, could recognize itself in a pebble.

That this was saved as a treasure suggests all kinds of things about our earliest prehistoric & pre-human "selves." We were greedy for more than such necessities as food & were apt to horde treasures even before the most rudimentary concept of moneyed wealth existed. We liked artistic things. We were vain & liked artistic things that reminded us of us.

It seems not a large leap to imagine ourselves as superstitious enough to assume anything that looked like us was thinking, as we are thinking, therefore the simian-faced stone was alive & thoughtful & infused with magic. I certainly thought so of all my toys as a kid & even became terrorized by them, knowing as I did that they were all god damned alive & might turn on me & kill me if I caused any of them to feel rejected or induced jealousy in them by showing favoritism to one toy over the others.

So I fancy Australopithecus imagining everything around her as alive & potentially awesome. And finding a rock that could look right back into my eyes with its eyes was proof of this sentiment that more of the world was sentient than just me & my kind.

Ook, me cave woman. You?

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