Largest North American Rock Drawings Discovered in Alabama – ARTnews.com

The largest rock drawings in North America have been discovered in Alabama, according to a study by Jan F. Simek, Stephen Alvarez and Alan Cressler in the journal Archaeology. Antiques.

The five large figures discovered include three anthropomorphs (human-like figures), a swirling, enigmatic figure, and a serpent, most likely an eastern diamondback rattlesnake that was sacred to the indigenous peoples of southeastern Europe. ‘era. The smallest figure measures about 3 feet and the largest, the serpent, spans about 10 feet in length, marking the largest known rock drawings in North America. The design was not done with pigment but rather incised into the walls.

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It is unknown what the figures represented to the Native Americans who made them during the Middle Woodland period about 2,000 years ago.

“These are not recognizable characters from ethnographically recorded Native American stories from the Southeast, nor from archaeologically known iconographic material,” the researchers write in their paper. “They do, however, share some themes with other known regional rock art, such as insignia-wearing anthropomorphs, rattlesnakes, and the symbolic emergence of rock. Thus, they probably represent characters from previously unknown religious stories.

Additionally, the researchers explain that Native Americans in the American Southeast viewed caves as entrances to the underworld, and so the figures likely represent spirits that typically reside in this divine space, which differ from the spirits of the upper world.

cave drawing

One of the discovered anthropomorphs.
photograph by S. Alvarez; illustration by J. Simek

The discovery was made possible through the use of 3D photogrammetry, a technique in which many photos of a space are taken and then used to model a 3D rendering of a space.

The cave in which the drawings were made has very low ceilings, which means that to see even the smallest drawings that adorn the cave, which were discovered in 1998, you have to be lying down. But once the ceiling was mapped, these large figures invisible to the naked eye appeared.

“They are so large that the creators must have created the images without being able to see them in their entirety,” the researchers wrote. “So the creators worked from their imagination, rather than from an unfettered visual point of view.”

Before this accidental discovery, photogrammetry was not used to find invisible drawings, but researchers predict that this technology could unlock new glyphs in American caves.