Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 59 Number 3: 148-153 -December 1997

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Four Thousand Years of Native American Cave Art in the Southern Appalachians
Charles H. Faulkner


The seminal work of archaeologists in Mammoth and Salts caves, Kentucky, in the 1960s, revealed that prehistoric Native Americans not only buried their dead in these caverns, but also intensively explored and mined the “dark zones” beginning 4,000 years ago. When the glyph caves of Tennessee and Virginia were studied in the 1980s, research revealed these underground sanctuaries were also sacred areas of non-mortuary ritual. It was concluded at that time that Native American cave use during the past 4,000 years probably shifted from exploration to intensive mining of cave minerals. At about the beginning of the common era, the increasing use of caves as burial places eventually led to their abandonment as sources for minerals. By circa 1,000 years ago only a few of these caves continued to be used for ceremonial purposes. The recent discoveries of two additional glyph caves in Tennessee, one in Virginia, and two in Kentucky, have resulted in a reassessment of this chronological sequence of prehistoric cave use, and have also underscored the fact that southern Appalachian caves still contain important undiscovered archaeological remains.

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