2021/08/18

Unnamed Cave 61

Throughout a caver's career, certain caves stand out as important, or defining to them. One such cave, which I will refer to by its archaeological name, Unnamed Cave 61, is such a cave for me. I was present when the discovery of its prehistoric art was first made. It was a cave which I was able to lead a team of cavers to for what we at the time believed to be the first time. I later learned, and corrected and updated an existing cave's location and moved our records over to it. The original cave point was thousands of feet away.

This cave I have come to think of as "mine" though I in no way own or have any rights to it. But we take things seriously which are personal, and vice versa. I am aware of the faults in this viewpoint, but it's also an extension of my own love for this particular cave.

All that serves to preface my walkthrough of the cave, and its amazing contents.

Panel, Painted light, Unnamed Cave 61 In this first image of the panel, one can see it naturally. It was photographed with painted light from a headlamp by a tripod mounted camera at close range. As a cave explorer, the faded charcoal pigment is not easy to see unless you slow down and intentionally look for it.
Panel, Painted light - D-Stretch, Unnamed Cave 61 In this image, a D-Stretch version of the panel has been made. Local contrast is provided by color. Individual parts can be made out, but the whole panel isn't clearly visible. Detailed processing of the D-Stretch image may improve panel detail.
Panel, Painted light - D-Stretch - B Channel, Unnamed Cave 61 This image is the B channel of a LAB color space image, and provides a nice contasted image by which to see the panel's detail.
Panel, Longwave light, Unnamed Cave 61 This is an image of the panel shot with longwave light (365nm). The experiment was to see if using this, or any of its possible color spaces would provide additional information or detail to the panel.
Panel, Longwave light - D-Stretch, Unnamed Cave 61 This image is the D-Stretch version of the longwave light image. The "stars" visible are likely bacterial colonies on the rock.


Chris Morris made this lovely 3d model of the panel that can be viewed here



This first panel has some spectacular interpretation, which I will attempt to provide you with. The main panel has a geologic feature called a styolite (8) that runs across it. The artists appear to have used this naturally occurring geologic feature to separate the underworld with the land above within the context of their art. Knowing this about the styolite one can clearly discern the three realms of Native American mythology: The heavens, Earth, and the underworld.

In the heavens, one can see a star shape (1), likely representing the sun. In the underworld one can see a cresent moon (2), and a pack of quadrupeds (4). The right-most quadruped is turned vertical approximately 90 degrees (6). Around the corner, is the warrior (3) with a headress on and bow drawn.

The Earth portion of the panel includes a figure, dubbed "Touchdown man" (5) who has his arms thrown to the heavens. Another quadruped (7) is visible and deep scratches (10) which mar a portion of the pictograph. The scratches are believed to have been from a later Native American that visited the cave. Perhaps they disagreed with the symbology, or wanted to have their own conversation with the cave.

Returning to the warrior, his placement is important within the cave. He is hiding around the corner from the entrance of the cave, weapon ready. He is guarding the cave with his pack of quadrupeds - or perhaps they are dogs. The last dog, the one turned vertically is drawn that way because it is metaphorically on the steep slope at the entrance of the cave. This spirit warrior, drawn by a Native American is believed to be the cave's protector.

01 - Star
1 - Star

02 - Moon
2 - Moon

03 - Warrior
3 - Warrior

04 - Quadrupeds
4 - Quadrupeds

05 - Touchdown Man
5 - Touchdown Man

06 - Vertical Quadruped
6 - Vertical quadruped

07 - Above Ground Quadruped
7 - Above ground quadruped

08 - Styoloite
8 - Styoloite

9 - Stokemarks (not pictured) 10 - Petroglyphs
10 - Petroglyphs atop pictographs

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