Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 67 Number 1: 61-68 - April 2005

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Preservation of prehistoric footprints in Jaguar Cave, Tennessee
P. Willey, Judy Stolen, George Crothers, and Patty Jo Watson


More than 4500 years ago, a group of prehistoric cavers negotiated complicated cave passages and discovered a side passage approximately two hours’ journey from the cave’s entrance. They explored the passage toward its end, came to the termination of the easily traveled portion, turned around and exited the same way they entered, leaving footprints and torch material in the cave mud. Their remarkable journey is the earliest evidence of human cave use in the eastern United States.

A total of 274 relatively complete footprints remained in the passage’s moist substrate when the passage was re-discovered approximately 30 years ago. The malleable deposits were pliable then, and remain so today. This pliability made the prints’ preservation vulnerable to subsequent events, agents and processes. The purposes of this paper are to describe the prehistoric cavers’ accomplishments, document the alteration of the prints, and describe efforts to study and preserve them.

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