The cave curves for two miles beneath northern Alabama, with gorges that turn into mysterious dark zones, sediment deposits, a waterfall, and deep pools. Ancient footprints are buried in its furthest gorge. The names of Union soldiers from the Civil War are scribbled on a wall.
Bending over the ceiling because the ceiling was too low, Alan Cressler turned on a light from his helmet on July 30, 1998 and raked his beam across the surface above it.
The artwork of a person who lived centuries ago has emerged: possibly a round-headed bird.
“Once I saw this, I said ‘OK,'” Mr Cressler, who now works for the United States Geological Survey, said in an interview this week. “It gives me chills to talk about it today. I just realized its immediate importance. ”
An archaeologist, expert in 3D photography, and with others, Mr. Cressler 19. He further explored the cave known as the Cave of the Nameless and his art over the years. Released this week Findings in the journal Antiquity. The study highlighted the role of 3-D technology. revealing initially invisible art More than 20 years ago, Mr. Cressler was pressed so close to the ceiling that he could not see the entire array radiating above him in all directions.
The cave art is among the largest found in North America, deep within a complex dark region where natural light cannot reach, said Jan Simek, an archaeologist at the University of Tennessee and co-author of the paper.
Using radiocarbon dating and analysis of pottery, the researchers estimate that the art dates back to the Middle and Late Woodland periods, or between 500 and 1000 AD, when farming, hunting and gathering led to food production and settled life in the area.
There are figures with human features, a coiled snake with a tail rattle and a forked tongue, and a 10-metre snake entwining in width. Some incorporate features of the ceiling into their design, such as the serpentine that appears to come out of a natural crack.
Ghostly humanoid figures are adorned with regalia. Pieces of charred river cane suggest finely carved artwork in a mud coating may have been a team effort, with the artist or someone holding a torch while the artists worked.
When early artists carved out of mud with their fingers or forked precision instruments, they were most likely lying on deposits of sediment.
Dr. “It’s extremely detailed,” Simek said. “It covers an acre of surface area on the ceiling. The glyphs are in one room, but the cave continues.”
Since cave art was first documented in North America in 1979, Dr. Simek and Mr. Cressler are working on what’s known as dark zone cave art, which involves exploring passageways inaccessible by natural light.
Documented in Tennessee in 1979, the cave contained 750 to 800 years old mud drawings depicting pre-Columbian Native American religious themes, Ancient research said. Since then, 89 other pre-Columbian cave art sites have been identified in southeastern North America, he said. The oldest are about 7,000 years old, but most date from 800 AD to 1600 AD.
Some are on private property and these finds are kept secret to keep the area free from vandals. Others are on public lands, including Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. Some can only be reached by boat, as the rivers once rose to land-accessible inlets..
In their study, the use of 3D modeling in Alabama’s 19th Cave of the Nameless “promises a new era in the exploration of ancient cave art” because it reveals images that would otherwise be imperceptible, the researchers said.
The technique has been used elsewhere, such as creating a copy of art. Lascaux caves in Francebut Dr. As Simek says, “to see if there are things we haven’t seen”, it’s not as much as researching.
The researchers used a technique called photogrammetry; in this technique, a camera traveled along a track to take overlapping images and then stitched together using software. Its founder, Stephen Alvarez, said it creates a flawless representation that highlights even the finest engravings in the mud. Archive of Ancient Art and co-author of the study. 19. He was responsible for the 3D studies in the Cave of the Nameless.
More than 16,000 overlapping photographs mapped out the known art of the cave.
“Something like magic,” said Mr. Alvarez. “Here is this thing that has been invisible for over 1,000 years and suddenly comes to life. Even though humans have been wiped out, their stories are still here.”
The method is useful because the uneven features of a cave ceiling can cast shadows that hide delicate lines in the art. These features complicate his initial attempts to document the work with a camera, Mr Cressler said.
Dr. The use of photogrammetry is even more intriguing because ancient artists didn’t have the technology or opportunity to see the big picture, Simek said. Unlike the rock art outside, the artists inside the cave chamber could not step back and contemplate their work in progress from afar.
“The makers of these images couldn’t see them in their entirety except their minds,” he said. “It means they have an idea of what they should draw and move while doing it.”
But exactly what the artists had in mind has so far eluded researchers.
Dr. Simek said the project’s work with Native American collaborators helped to interpret the cave’s possible relationship with the supernatural.
Dustin Mater, Chickasaw citizen and artist Mr. Alvarez, who works on Mr. Alvarez’s archive, said the themes and images in cave art were similar to the stories he had learned from tribal elders, such as cave portals to the underworld and a winged humanoid figure wielding a war mace.
“It’s almost speculative, but there are nuances that carry over into our traditions and stories today,” said Mr Mater, who is among the Indigenous people whose ancestors were forcibly removed from northwest Alabama in the 1800s. “Living cultures take symbols and then reanimate them and give them meaning.”