Prehistoric Cave Art from Florida

Article excerpt

In 2007, a group of avocational cavers saw engravings on the walls of a cave in the eastern Florida Panhandle. They contacted the Cave Archaeology Research Team from the University of Tennessee, who visited the site and documented eight petroglyphs on the walls of the cave. Given the subject matter of the petroglyphs, artifacts found on the floor, and the extent of weathering of the petroglyphs, it is likely that these images are prehistoric, perhaps Late Woodland, in age. This is the first instance of cave art south of the Fall Line and only the second example of prehistoric rock art in Florida.


Prehistoric use of caves in the karst lands of southeastern North America has been a topic of great interest to science in general, and to archaeologists in particular, since the early nineteenth century, when Pleistocene megafauna and mummified human burials were discovered in deep Kentucky and Tennessee caves (Meloy 1984; Mercer 1897; Miller 1812). Over the nearly two centuries since those discoveries, much exploration and analysis has been done, notably by Watson and her colleagues in the 1960s in the Mammoth Cave region, where, we would argue, modern American cave archaeology was born (Watson 1969, 1974). We now know of thousands of cave sites in the Southeast, some witnessing prehistoric human activity many miles into the dark zone recesses of great karst systems (Simek 2008). Prehistoric people explored caves, used caves for human burial and deposition into vertical shafts, mined minerals, chert, and clay from deposits deep underground, and undertook ceremonies of profound sacred character in the darkness (Simek 1998; Watson 1986). Into the ceremonial category of cave use we place the now numerous examples (more than 60) of prehistoric cave art sites that have been documented in the Southeast over the past two decades (Simek and Cressler 2005). UntU recently, nearly aU of the known cave art sites were located in the limestone tablelands of the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province (Figure 1), comprising the Cumberland Plateau, the Ridge and Valley Province, and the Highland Rim, and their equivalents from Alabama and Georgia to Kentucky (Simek and Cressler 2001). A few sites are known on the western side of the Mississippi Valley (Boszhardt 2003; Diaz-Granados and Duncan 2000) and three in Virginia and West Virginia (Simek et al. 2000). No cave art sites were known below the Fall Line on the Coastal Plain of the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2007, a group of avocational cavers exploring a small cave on private land near Florida Caverns State Park in Jackson County, Florida, saw fine engravings on the walls and ceiling of the cave. They contacted Alan Cressler, who visited the site and, based on what he saw there, arranged for Jan Simek to come to Florida from Tennessee to see the engravings. In September 2007, we visited the cave and documented the petroglyphs. We also saw artifacts from the cave, which we were allowed to show to Jason O'Donoughue (then at the University of Tennessee), who is familiar with the prehistoric archaeology of northern Florida, before returning the artifacts to the owners. Based on the nature of the petroglyphs and their artifact associations, we believe that the engravings represent prehistoric art, the first cave art documented in Florida and only the second rock-art site of any kind discovered in the state. We designated this site 59th Unnamed Cave, according to a naming convention that we have used for many years (Simek et al. 1997).

Prehistoric cave use in Florida has been known for some time. Clarence Simpson and Charles Fairbanks surveyed and excavated at various localities in Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna in northern Florida as the Park was being developed in the 1940s (Fairbanks 1941; Simpson 1941). Ripley Bullen also undertook archaeological work in several caves around the same time (Bullen 1949). Florida caves, especially the deep karst springs related to the Florida Aquifer, have yielded a rich archaeological record extending back into the Paleoindian period (Clausen et al. …


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