All Posts in unnamed cave

February 26, 2018 - No Comments!

Unnamed Caves


Stephen Alvarez works in one of the Unnamed Caves. Photo by Alan Cressler

February has been a very busy month for the Ancient Art Archive. In addition to modeling a Cherokee Syllabary cave, we have been hard at work on the Unnamed Caves project. The Unnamed Caves refers to board member Jan Simek's 30 years of work documenting the rock and cave art of the Southern Cumberland Plateau. When he started the work cave art was unknown in the region. Today he has over 100 sites. They are called the Unnamed Caves not because they lack names but to protect the sites by keeping them anonymous.

With a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation, we have begun working in one of the most complex unnamed caves. This site has over 100 meters of finely traced mud glyphs on the ceiling. Most of them are so faint as to be almost invisible to the naked eye. However, using a 3D modeling technique called photogrammetry we can make these difficult to see drawings visible. The technique is the very definition of painstaking. We shoot thousands of high resolution, overlapping images of the cave then use computer software to triangulate each pixel is three-dimensional space. We are six thousand images into the project with another six thousand to go.

So far the results have been spectacular. In proof of concept modeling, we have already uncovered images that are unknown in Southeastern iconography. The drawings come from the middle woodland period (200 BCE-500 CE). This is a time that we don't know a lot about in the Southern Cumberland Plateau. This cave may represent the most complete set of iconography from that era.

Please join the Ancient Art Archive and help support our work exploring and preserving humanity's oldest stories.


February 13, 2018 - No Comments!

Cherokee Syllabary

The Cherokee were the only Native American group to have a written language. It was developed by Sequoyah in the early 1800s. In the years immediately after adoption, 80% of the Cherokee population became literate. That is a literacy rate that the US has barely beaten today. Some of the first examples of Syllabary are preserved inside caves in the Cherokee homeland along what is now the I-59 corridor on the Georgia-Alabama state lines. The Ancient Art Archive has been working with the SCCi to build a 3D model of this particular chamber. The hope is that the model will serve as the basis for a VR experience that will let disparate members of the Cherokee Nations virtually visit this place and see the words that their ancestors wrote on this cave wall. The cave has been heavily visited in the past and modern graffiti covers the earlier Cherokee writing.

photo by Alan Cressler
Stephen Alvarez shoots in the Cherokee Syllabary section of an unnamed Southeastern Cave

After building the 3D model the Ancient Art Archive will digitally remove the modern graffiti to virtually restore the chamber to how the Cherokee left it in the early 1800s. The cave is owned and administered by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. With the help of the Cherokee Nation, they have gated this chamber to protect the writing.

The SCCi has given the Ancient Art Archive an initial grant to begin the modeling. However, we are looking for funds to do the VR buildout and digital cleaning. Please JOIN the Ancient Art Archive and help with our mission to explore and preserve humanity's stories as they are told on rock and cave walls across the planet.

October 31, 2017 - No Comments!

We’ve been building a cave

October has been a busy month for the Ancient Art Archive!

We've been working largely behind the scenes on technology and capacity building. We are closing in on the ability to provide immersive, 3D environments. To that end, we built a cave. Or at least part of a virtual one. The model below has the actual sounds recorded from the cave.

The model itself is built with 1200 individual images and represents about 900 feet of passage inside the cave.

We will soon begin working on a site in Georgia with Cherokee Syllabary writing inside. Part of the audio in that cave will be the spoken words.

Stay Tuned!

June 30, 2017 - No Comments!

Atlanta Fundraiser News

The Horse Panel of Chauvet Cave, France

The Horse Panel of Chauvet Cave, France

This week we had a very successful fundraiser hosted by Arts Atlanta (see their article on the archive here). During the event board member, Jan Simek and I gave an overview of how making art became a vital part of the human survival strategy, what the sites look like

and how we are using the newest imaging technologies to preserve the world's oldest images.

"A Generous Donor will match* any contributions to the Archive  given in the next week"

We also revealed exciting new discoveries that we have made working on the Unnamed Caves Initiative. The new finds are spectacular, subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with what we are doing.

Thank you to all who attended. Particular thanks to those who contributed to support our efforts to explore and preserve humanity's oldest stories! A very generous donor has agreed to match any contributions made between now and July 6th. So you can still receive a signed 6x9" print of Ten Negative Handprints for contributions of $100 or more and have your money go twice as far!

Negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Go here to Donate

-Stephen Alvarez



April 13, 2017 - No Comments!

Unnamed Caves Initiative

mud glyph snake in unnamed cave 19

The Unnamed Caves are one of the initiatives that the Ancient Art Archive is working on this year. Across the Southeast, there are prehistoric art caves. The locations are closely guarded secrets (hence the name) and the art in the caves tends to be faint. However, using the 3D imaging techniques that the Archive is pioneering we can see the images more clearly and in some instances see them for the first time at all.

We are working closely with Jan Simek at the University of Tennessee on this project.

John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote a wonderful profile of the Jan's work in the Paris Review.

Of course, all our work is supported by donations. Please consider a gift to help preserve this fragile legacy.

February 11, 2017 - No Comments!

Cave 19, We need to do this now

2,000 year old finger tracing and modern graffiti in unnamed cave 19

One of the first questions I am asked about the Archive is why now? Can't this wait? There is so much else to do right now... It's a reasonable question. Much of the art that we are working with has been around thousands if not tens of thousands of years. Why now?

The short answer is we need to do this now! Sites are being destroyed in front of our eyes.

A graphic illustration of that is  unnamed cave 19. Its a woodland period site (+/- 2,000 years bp) in a remote corner of the South East. The cave ceiling is covered in very delicate, elaborate finger traced mud glyphs. There are abstract figures, snakes, birds, bears, humans with rays coming from their bellies. Read more