Archaeologists have found the largest cave paintings in North America on the ceiling

(ORDO NEWS) — The cave, where images were found, unlike anything previously known, was discovered by scientists a long time ago. But it was possible to “see” its ornate ceiling only now – with the help of not quite archaeological equipment.

In 1998, in Alabama, archaeologists found a cave in which they found several fragments of pottery, as well as pieces of coal suitable for radiocarbon dating.

The pottery turned out to be similar to samples from the Woodland period (from about 1000 BC to 1000 AD). Radiocarbon analysis gave two dates for two groups of samples: it turned out that the cave was guaranteed to be visited in 133-433 and 660-949 AD.

A group of scientists led by Jan Simek (Jan Simek) from the University of Tennessee (USA) carried out work to study the ceiling of this cave: I must say, it is very low – from 60 centimeters to 1.25 meters.

Archaeologists have found the largest cave paintings in North America on the ceiling 2
The height of the cave in some places does not exceed 60 centimeters, which forces archaeologists to work in difficult conditions

Cave 19 itself in Alabama (numbers instead of proper names are sometimes given to archaeological sites in order to keep their location secret) is huge. It has both vertical shafts, characteristic of karst caves, and low-ceilinged chambers formed by washouts.

On the ceiling of just such a chamber with an area of ​​20 by 25 meters, scientists have identified the largest North American rock paintings known today.

Until now, they have not been paid attention to, because they are difficult to see: for this you need to lie on the floor. Simek, on the other hand, applied the method of photogrammetry , which has long been known and widely used for applied purposes, but not in archeology.

Shortly before the drawings were made, a thin layer of clay had formed on the ceiling of the cave, possibly a remnant of a major mudflow. It is in this layer that the drawings are displaced. Now it is difficult to say whether the artists used any tools or painted with their fingertips.

The special microclimate of the cave not only provided a “canvas” for the rock paintings, but also preserved them: the clay layer was preserved by oxidation caused by moisture condensation.

What did the inhabitants of pre-Columbian America draw? People and animals. So, on the ceiling, the image of a rattlesnake about three meters long is quite distinguishable – it is believed that it was a sacred animal among a number of indigenous peoples of the southeast of the modern United States.

Archaeologists have found the largest cave paintings in North America on the ceiling 3
According to scientists, this is an image of a rattlesnake

Scientists have described the five largest drawings. In addition to the rattlesnake, the ceiling featured images of human figures and an intricate pattern.

Two of the anthropomorphic figures are slightly longer than 1.8 meters, another is slightly longer than 90 centimeters. These people, apparently, are dressed in ceremonial clothes and perform some kind of rituals.

The researchers suggested that some of the anthropomorphic figures depict not people, but ghosts, and the whole complex of drawings is dedicated to the world of spirits. It is not yet possible to test this hypothesis.

Simek believes that the use of photogrammetry to study caves with traces of human habitation will make it possible to find more similar drawings. And then it will already be possible to talk about a system of ideas, and not about the work of one person (or a group of artists).

Archaeologists have found the largest cave paintings in North America on the ceiling 4
Cave ceiling map. Figures highlighted in white

Simek’s hypothesis about the subject of the image (the other world) is supported by the exact location chosen for the drawings. The chamber where they were found is located in the dark zone of the cave, that is, sunlight does not reach there.

Ancient artists painted their paintings by the light of torches made from arundinaria (or American bamboo). Actually, according to the remains of the torch, one of the dates for visiting the cave was set.

In addition, almost all the peoples of pre-Columbian North America (and those living on the territory of the modern USA and on the territory of Mesoamerica) considered the caves to be a passage to the realm of the dead.

The late Woodland period, to which the drawings seem to refer, is characterized by the fact that the population of eastern North America began to spread over increasing areas, although not greatly increased in numbers. This led to the isolation of the tribes that used to maintain cultural and trade ties.

As a result, some elements of the material culture of different peoples turned out to be completely unique: for example, some did without bows and arrows, although the distribution of these weapons was extremely wide.

To what extent such peoples could preserve common cultural and religious ideas is a matter for future research.


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