The larger-than-life composition is mostly invisible to the naked eye. Advanced technology helped uncover the stunning composition.
Deep in the dark recesses of a limestone cave in Alabama soar life-sized figures that span earthly and spiritual realms. Traced into the mud of the cave ceiling by torchlight more than a thousand years ago, the sprawling scene is so enormous and faint it cannot be discerned by the naked eye—yet the ancient etchings are being celebrated as one of the largest rock-art creations in all of North America, and the largest to ever be discovered in a cave.
In a study published today in the journal Antiquity, researchers describe how they used a process known as 3D photogrammetry, originally developed to capture vast expanses of Earth via aerial photos, to uncover the enigmatic images sheltered in an underground system in the Southeast United States known prosaically as “19th Unnamed Cave.” Its location is shielded to prevent looters and casual cavers who could damage or destroy the ancient artwork for profit or by mistake.