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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rock Art

Rock Art deer
Experts say it's a new style of rock art seldom seen before. When Dan Arnold, an amateur spelunker/archaeologist, found the place two years ago, he at first thought the cave bore the artwork of a bunch of stoned-out hippies. There were some discarded beer cans, evidence of campfires, and more than a little graffiti on the walls along with the ancient drawings. Some of the graffiti dated back as far as the 1800s. But there's no question, even to the casual observer, as to what's recent and what's old. Tainter Cave is some 250 feet deep and much of the best work is deep inside in what is called the "dark zone" where natural light has never penetrated. This, and the ideal temperature and humidity present, account for the artwork's remarkable state of preservation.

Tainter Cave entrance before the steel gate
The cave's location is a secret, to keep away vandals; and even if you were to find it, a recently erected, massive steel gate just inside would thwart the curious. Rock art, despite its name, is highly fragile. We can tell you that it's in south-western Wisconsin and if you want to see it, artists' reproductions and photos posted on the Internet. What makes the site all the more remarkable is the fact that both drawing and painting is present, as well as Native American artifacts stretching back several hundred years. This was no ancient bit of petrographic interior decoration, but apparently a shrine dedicated to ritual, used for hundreds of years. Stylistically, the art is very linear, stick-like, boxy, even abstract, closer to Mondrian than the realism of Lascaux (prehistoric cave paintings in southern France).

Earth and Sky (ignore the grafitti)
More than one hundred images line the walls and ceilings of the cave (a quantity more than doubling the previously known prehistoric art of the Midwest). Some are readily identifiable. There is a landscape-like depiction of earth and sky (above) as well as hunters armed with bows, a bow man (below, right), thunderbirds, deer, running, jumping, even a pregnant doe (below, left). Paintings include horned bison and abstract symbolism that will probably never be deciphered. Carbon dating has placed the charcoal drawings from around 900 CE. Artifacts found are somewhat more recent. But one image, representing a long-horned buffalo may date to as early as the end of the ice age, almost 10,000 years ago. This may be the oldest American art to be found.

Pregnant deer
Bow hunter

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