3D technology is helping archaeologists uncover ancient indigenous art

In the shadow of the 19th Nameless Cave, you must crawl. While the chamber is wide, it’s quite small vertically – there’s enough space for one person to squat. You must lie on your back to look up at the ceiling. What you can see in a moment is infinitely limited by these natural limitations. However, the harsh nature of the 19th Nameless Cave makes the massive ancient artwork carved there all the more amazing.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Ancient, the researchers detailed five figures carved in the mud of the cave ceiling, located in an undisclosed location in Alabama. Art was created during what is known as the Woodland Period by Native Americans sometime between A.D. 600 and 1,000. Their descendants belonged to the Chickasaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, and Nation. Muscogee Creek, among others possibly.

These drawings, described as mud strokes, are believed to be the largest known cave art images ever identified in North America. The largest is an 11-foot-long snake resembling the eastern diamondback rattlesnake — a creature sacred to the natives of the Southeast. A little smaller but a little more mysterious are three personified characters who do not resemble known characters in Southeast Native American stories. The last figure is six feet of swirls; it is not known what it represents.

What is known is that these caves were considered sacred by Native Americans in the Southeastern United States – considered pathways to the underworld. This is why researchers theorize that anthropomorphic figures could be so important spiritually.

These huge numbers were also described in the study as “invisible.” The cave is so cramped and the engravings so faint that the artwork was overlooked when researchers entered the room more than 20 years ago. To get around this, the team used a technique called high-resolution 3D photogrammetry to digitally manipulate the chamber space and display the artwork.

Artifact in spirit from the 19th Cave of No Name, Alabama.

through Antiquity Publications Ltd; photo of S. Alvarez; illustrated by J. Simek

Photometry involves taking multiple superimposed images from multiple angles and using them to create 3D models through software. It’s a method developed in the 19th century as a way to turn aerial photographs into topographic maps. But subsequent breakthroughs in computer science and digital photography allowed the process to become what it is today — a technique for producing lifelike models of images that can be digitally manipulated in space. virtual space.

This new study marks the first time the team has used 3D photometry to analyze an ancient cave like this. They say the technology offers “untapped potential” to record and further identify “archaeological phenomena”.

These huge numbers have long defied the human eye; The size of the cave also suggests that the artists couldn’t see their entire work while they created it. Instead, they had to enter the cave “with a layout already in mind,” Jan Simek, the study’s first author, told The Daily Beast. The lines are too clearly defined and purposefully placed to simply be scribbles.

“It was a remarkable experience because suddenly we realized that this cave is much more complicated than we realized.”

– Jan Simek, cave archaeologist and professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Simek is a cave archaeologist and professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He’s known about the 19th Untitled Cave since co-author Alan Cressler, an independent and cavernologist, visited the site in 1998 and saw hundreds of much smaller mud inscriptions. also on the ceiling — carved geometric shapes, wasps and birds. What Cressler couldn’t see, however, were much larger numbers — that is, until the team used 3D photometry years later.

“We’ve been doing this for 35 years and we’ve seen a lot of very impressive things,” says Simek. “But we didn’t expect to see drawings of this size, especially those that resemble people. When we did, it was a remarkable experience because suddenly we realized that this cave is much more complicated than we realized. ”

Technology is advancing in archeology at breakneck speed, says Simek. Tools like lidar, a method of remote sensing, and satellites are allowing groups around the world to see what was previously hidden. Photogrammetry as a field has also evolved over the past decade — so much so that co-author Stephen Alvarez, a National Geographic photographer and founder of the Archives of Ancient Art, has launched the Simke and Cressler reunited in the cave in 2017.

Over the course of two months, the team took 16,000 pictures — each photo overlapping by 60 to 80 percent. They were used to create three 3D models: two of the carved ceiling and one of the other room with no art. (The 19th unnamed cave is just part of a three-mile underground passage.) The digital manipulation of the models, in turn, allows you to have an unobstructed view of the ceiling.

“It is not possible to exaggerate the ‘access’ provided by 3D photogrammetry without entering the cave.”

– Julie Reed, associate professor at Penn State

“You can move the floor and move the ceiling in a way that you can’t in reality,” says Simek. “It gives us a much broader perspective.” This process, and the viewing angle it allows, has revealed that the faint lines of the ceiling are actually incisions that correspond to intricate works of art.

“The sheer number of images gathered from the 19th Untitled Cave and the overlays generated allow us to see the big picture, so to speak, and see it in greater detail than was previously possible,” Julie Reed, an associate professor at Penn State who was not part of the research team, told The Daily Beast.

Reed is also a historian with an emphasis on Southeast Indians and Cherokee History, and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. While she was not involved in this project, she did visit other caves with members of the research team. So far, Simek and colleagues have visited about 2,000 caves across Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama. They saw the art in those 100 caves.

Reed observed that art workers during the Woodland Period also created the Serpent Mound, a 1,000-foot burial site and effigy, in present-day Ohio. The artistic imagination and thematic choices observed both there and in the 19th Untitled Cave remind us “of how our native ancestors spoke creative and spiritual languages.” similar to each other across time and space,” says Reed.


Mysterious drawing of swirls, with a rounded head at one end and a possibly rattlesnake tail at the other, from the 19th Unnamed Cave, Alabama

through Antiquity Publications Ltd; photo of S. Alvarez; illustrated by J. Simek

The team is also eager to use 3D photometry because you can, with very little effort, turn data into a VR experience, Simek said. In the paper, the team discusses the potential to bring these virtual experiences to progeny communities. They presented early results for the Eastern Cherokees — even though the 19th Untitled Caves project did not directly involve the natives.

(The team is working on another paper about another cave in Alabama with members of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe. They have also partnered with the Chickasaw Nation to document rock art in their homeland. their.)

“Access is provided by 3D photometry without entering the cave,” says Reed.

“As someone who has been into caves containing early Cherokee textbooks, I have often thought about how we could bring materials and physical space to Cherokee elders, who specialize in speaking and read this language,” she added.

The approach, which involves the unnamed 19th Cave, is complicated on several levels. It is so called to keep its location anonymous: It is unprotected and located on private land. “Security is a real concern,” said Simek, who fears damage and looting.

Nor is it located on land legally owned by a tribe. Around 1813, a settlement movement led by Andrew Jackson resulted in illegal land sales and one-sided claims of property owned by the Natives of Alabama. The subsequent passage of the devastating Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the removal of approximately 125,000 members of the Southeast tribes from their lands.

Today, about two-thirds of the 100 cave sites that Simek and colleagues identified are on private land — and they are difficult to access, both because of their legal status and the simple fact that they are difficult to access. approach. However, global access is not necessarily the end goal for these sites. Instead, we should “consult with today’s descendant communities to avoid the exploitative nature of relationships that have long been associated with non-Indigenous concerns for indigenous lands, cultures and histories,” said Reed.

While the question of access remains unanswered, Simek plans to continue searching for more cave art. There are an estimated 25,000 caves in the Southeastern United States, and only 2,000 have been examined for cave art. He’s also eager to double-check websites with 3D photogrammetry; he thought there was a good chance there was art that they missed.

“I am retiring from my faculty position, but I am not going to stop doing this,” Simek said. “There’s so much work to do.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/3d-tech-is-helping-archaeologists-unearth-ancient-indigenous-art?source=articles&via=rss 3D technology is helping archaeologists uncover ancient indigenous art


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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