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Artworks of the Dark Zone

Since the 1980s, archaeologist Jan Simek and his colleagues have surveyed prehistoric artwork decorating the deepest reaches of caves, including the so-called “Unnamed Caves,” of Tennessee and Alabama. Many of the artworks were incised on the mud walls of these caves. In recent years, Simek and Beau Carroll, lead archaeologist of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office, have also studied inscriptions Cherokee left behind in the caves using their own writing system. Below are images of some of these artworks and an inscription taken by photographer Alan Cressler. (All images are courtesy of Alan Cressler. To see more, go to Cressler’s Flickr.com site.)

  • This glyph incised into the mud wall of Unnamed Cave 36 appears to depict an owl.
  • An elaborately incised mud glyph discovered in Unnamed Cave 36 may depict a turtle.
  • Abstract designs carved into the wall of Unnamed Cave 19 probably date to the Woodland period, which lasted from about 1000 B.C. to A.D 1100.
  • A historical inscription written in Cherokee characters on the ceiling of a cave in Alabama can be translated, in part, as “I am your grandson,” a phrase Cherokee might use to address their ancestors.

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