Largest Indigenous American Cave Art Ever Discovered in U.S. Found in Alabama

by Jon D. B.

“It brings the cave art of the southeast into the discussion of other monumental images,” says study author Jan Simek of the remarkable Alabama cave art.

According to their archaeological study, Jan Simek’s team has discovered the longest known painting created by early Indigenous Americans in what is now Alabama.

Simek and her team believe this new cave painting to be 1,000-years-old or older. And at the center is a 10-foot-long (3 meter) diamondback rattlesnake. Many other depictions surround the serpent, too; each created with mud to color the walls and ceiling of the cave.

But where in Alabama, exactly, is a carefully guarded secret dating back to the late 1990s. The secrecy surrounding the cave art site has helped preserve the Alabama site long enough for such monumental discoveries to be made.

Speaking to Live Science, Simek – a distinguished Department of Anthropology professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville – reveals that the technology required to discover this cave art didn’t exist until now. Specifically, their team employed photogrammetry, which involves taking hundreds of digital images to construct a virtual 3D model.

‘We never saw these very large images because we couldn’t get back far enough to see them’

“This methodology allows us to create a virtual model of the space that we can manipulate,” Simek explains. “In this particular case, the ceiling of the cave is very close to the floor. So your field of vision is limited by your proximity to the ceiling. We never saw these very large images because we couldn’t get back far enough to see them.”

Employing this imaging method allowed their team to uncover five previously unknown giant paintings, or glyphs, amongst the Alabama cave art.

“We could look at it from a greater perspective,” Simek adds of the imaging method. “It allows us to see things in a way that we can’t in person.”

Now, these giant paintings are likely to become the crown jewels of what’s known as the richest Southeast site for Indigenous American cave art.

Giant Alabama Cave Art May Center Around Diamondback Rattlesnakes

Through their research, the archaeologists would discover a diamond pattern for the entire giant glyph. This may indicate a focus on diamondback rattlesnakes for the entire cave art. This makes sense, as the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is pervasive throughout the Southeast and exists in Alabama to this day.

The Indigenous peoples of the Southeast considered the diamondback a sacred being. Its power to bring death to any creature it bit instilled the utmost respect in the original inhabitants of Alabama that painted this remarkable cave art. So much so, in fact, that Simek’s team believes the entire art motif to be about the afterlife.

“These are special because until now, we have had no large figures from this area,” Simek reveals. “And so that changes our perspective on what might be in these caves. It brings the cave art of the southeast into the discussion of other monumental images that we see in different parts of North America.”

This specific cave, full of Indigenous cave art, was first discovered in Alabama in 1998. It remains unnamed to protect the discoveries made within. And Simek and his team hope to discover even more art using photogrammetry in the over 3-mile cave system.

Look for the full study in this month’s Antiquity journal.