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For over 1000 years, the largest Native American cave paintings remained undiscovered

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A team of experts has discovered massive Native American artwork that had been hidden for almost 1,000 years in an Alabama cave. It’s the largest known cave painting in North America. The art was virtually undetectable until archaeologists researched the cave and used 3D scans to reveal the pieces, one of which measured 11 feet (3.4 metres) in length. Their findings were published in the journal Antiquity on Tuesday.

The large artwork was discovered inside 19th Unnamed Cave in Alabama, which has been kept anonymous to protect the site from vandalism. Although its location was first found in 1998, the tight confines of the cave made the sprawling art, drawn in mud, impossible to see, so it was missed. But hundreds of smaller images were discovered throughout the cave at that time. The giant glyphs may depict spirits of the underworld and have been dated to the first millennium AD. The art was created precontact, or prior to the Native Americans encountering outside cultures, according to the study. Jan F. Simek, a distinguished professor of science at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a team of researchers initially stumbled upon the giant drawings while working on documenting the cave interior beginning in 2017.

“We knew the cave contains precontact Native American mud glyphs, and we were carrying out a 3D photogrammetry documentation project to aid with management and conservation,” Simek, lead study author, said. “The very large cave art images cannot be seen in person in the cave because of the constrained spaces on the site.” The photogrammetry process involves taking thousands of photos to create a 3D model of something. It produced an accurate record of the site, but had the added benefit of unveiling the secret artwork — especially given the cave’s very low ceilings. During two months of field work, the team took 16,000 photographs. During the 3D imaging sessions, the team captured a wide view of the ceiling beyond where sunlight reaches in the cave and found five previously unknown drawings.

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  • For over 1000 years, the largest Native American cave paintings remained undiscovered
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