3D modeling reveals the largest rock drawings in North America

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A drawing inside the unnamed 19th cave in Alabama, where researchers confirmed on Wednesday that the largest cave glyphs in North America have now been discovered, using a new modeling technique 3D. Photo courtesy of Cambridge University Press

May 5 (UPI) — The largest known examples of North American rock drawings have been discovered in Alabama using a new identification technique, according to research published Wednesday by Cambridge University Press.

The 19th unnamed cave in Alabama contains hundreds of pre-contact Native American mud glyphs drawings discovered using 3D modelling, initiated for the first time in 2017.

The technique allowed “digital manipulation of chamber space and revealing images that could not be perceived prior to modeling,” according to researchers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Officially known as the 19th Unnamed Cave, the subterranean space in northern Alabama extends for miles below the surface. Hundreds of carved figures are located on the ceilings.

Archaeologists believe the carvings were made about 1,000 years ago by people living during the Woodland phase of Native American culture in the area.

The glyphs may represent spirits from the underworld and have been dated to the first millennium AD.

Photogrammetry is a software-based 3D modeling technique that begins by taking many photographs of a target. Each photograph overlaps its neighbor by 60% to 80%. The software then compares the images and overlaps, then calculates the camera positions used to produce the images.

In the 19th unnamed cave, scientists have created three interconnected models. Two were of the engraved ceiling and a third model of the undecorated cave passages.

“We knew the cave contained pre-contact Native American mud glyphs, and we were conducting a 3D photogrammetry documentation project to help with management and conservation,” said Jan F. Simek, a University of Tennessee, professor at Knoxville and lead author of the study.

“Very large rock art images cannot be seen in person in the cave due to the tight spaces on the site.”

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