In Alabama’s ‘19th Unnamed Cave,’ a Trove of Ancient Dark-Zone Art


The cave winds two miles beneath northern Alabama, with mysterious so-called dark zones, deposits, waterfalls, and passageways that turn into deep pools. Ancient footprints are embedded in its farthest passages. Union soldier names from the Civil War remain scribbled on the wall.

Crouching because the ceiling was so low, Alan Kresler took off the light from his helmet on July 30, 1998 and raked a beam across the surface above him.

I can see the artwork of fellow humans who lived centuries ago. Probably a round-headed bird.

“When I see it, I think it’s OK,” Cresler, who currently works at the US Geological Survey, said in an interview this week. “Talking about it gives me chills today. I recognized the imminent importance of it.”

Mr. Cressler, along with archaeologists, 3D photography experts, etc. In addition, he explored for many years the cave known as the 19th Anonymous Cave and its art. This week they published their findings in the journal Antiquity. This study reveals art that was initially invisible when Mr. Cressler was too close to the ceiling over 20 years ago to see a complete array radiating in all directions above. He emphasized the role of 3D technology above. he.

Jan Simek, an archaeologist at the University of Tennessee and co-author of the dissertation, said cave art is one of the largest found in North America, deep in complex dark zones out of natural light. ..

Using radiocarbon dating and analysis of pottery debris, researchers have found that art has replaced mid- and late Woodland eras, or agriculture, hunting, and gathering have replaced the region’s food production and sedentary lifestyles. It is estimated to date back between 500 and 1000 AD.

There is a human-characteristic figure, a coiled snake with a rattling tail and a bifurcated tongue, and a 10-foot-long snake that winds across the expanse. Some designs incorporate ceiling features, such as snakes that appear to emerge from natural crevices.

The ghostly humanoid figure is adorned with regalia. The charred shards of the river wand were the team’s efforts to have the artwork finely chopped in mud veneer, someone holding a torch while the artist or multiple artists were working. It suggests that there is a possibility.

It is very likely that early artists lay on the deposits when carving mud with delicate tools such as fingers and tines.

“It’s very detailed,” said Dr. Simek. “It covers an acre of surface area on the ceiling. The glyphs are in a single chamber, but the cave continues.”

Since the cave paintings were first documented in North America in 1979, Dr. Simek and Cressler have been studying what is known as dark zone cave paintings, exploring passages unreachable by natural light.

Ancient studies say that the caves recorded in Tennessee in 1979 contained 750-800-year-old mud paintings depicting Pre-Columbian Native American religious themes. Since then, 89 other pre-Columbian cave paintings have been identified in southeastern North America. The oldest are almost 7,000 years old, but most of them date from 800 to 1600 AD.

Some are on private land and the findings are kept secret to protect the area from vandals. Others are located on public lands such as Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. Some can only be reached by boat, as the river runs through the entrance, which was once accessible by land.

The use of 3D modeling in the 19th unnamed cave in Alabama “promises a new era of discovery of ancient cave paintings” to reveal images that were otherwise unrecognizable. Et al. Stated in the study.

This technique is also used elsewhere, such as making replicas of art in Lascaux Cave, France, but as Dr. Simek said, “Check for invisible things” in the search. Not so many.

Researchers used a technique called photogrammetry. In this technique, the cameras overlap along the track in inches, take overlapping images, and use software to stitch them together. Stephen Alvarez, founder and co-author of the study, creates a seamless representation that emphasizes even the finest sculptures in the mud. He was in charge of 3D work in the 19th unnamed cave.

Over 16,000 overlapping photographs created a map of the known art of the cave.

“It’s magical,” Alvarez said. “This is something that has been invisible for over 1,000 years and has suddenly come back to life. Even if people are taken away, their story is still here.”

This method is convenient because the uneven features of the cave ceiling can cast shadows that obscure the delicate lines of art. Cresler said these features complicated his early attempts to record work on the camera.

Dr. Simek said the use of photogrammetry was even more intriguing, as ancient artists did not have such skills or opportunities to see the big picture. Unlike rock art in the open air, the artists in the cave room couldn’t step back from afar to ponder the work in progress.

“The creators of these images couldn’t see them in their entirety, except in their minds,” he said. “It means they had an idea of ​​what they had to draw and move around while they were doing it.”

But what the artist had in mind exactly has so far escaped from researchers.

Dr. Shimek said working on the project with Native American collaborators helped interpret the possible relationship between the cave and the supernatural.

Dustin Meter, a Chickasaw citizen and artist working on Alvarez’s archives, tells the story of cave paintings about cave paintings, cave portals to the underworld and winged human-like figures. Armed with Warmaces said it was similar to what he learned.

“It’s almost speculative, but today there are nuances that are carried over to our traditions and stories,” said Mater, an indigenous ancestor who was forcibly removed from northwestern Alabama in the 1800s. “Living cultures take symbols, then revive them and give them meaning.”


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