Rare Find of Ancient Cave Art in Wisconsin

Dan Arnold was crawling around a cave looking for ancient Indian carvings and drawings when he stumbled upon 1,100-year-old charcoal drawings that are being hailed as a major archaeological discovery.

He found the thin outlines as he shone his flashlight on the stone walls inside a southwestern Wisconsin cave.

The pictures depict bow hunters taking aim at game, pregnant does and thunderbirds.

“When I saw the drawings, I was blown away. I thought this is too much — they must be fake,” said Arnold, an amateur archaeologist and spelunker. “My first impression was they were drawn by stoned hippies, because there’s a lot of abstract art.”

Moccasin and Birch Bark Torches

Ernie Boszhardt, a regional archaeologist with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center, said he was also stunned to see the drawings when Arnold contacted him.

Aside from the more than 100 rare drawings and carvings, Boszhardt found remains of a moccasin and birch bark torches possibly used by the artists, who are believed to be ancestors of today’s Ho-Chunk Indian tribe.

Authorities determined through carbon dating that the paintings were made around 900 A.D. It is the first time Wisconsin cave art has been conclusively dated.

Boszhardt said the discovery will help archaeologists determine the age of other drawings by comparing them with the cave art.

The discovery doubles the known number of ancient Indian cave paintings and carvings in Wisconsin.

Arnold made the discovery in 1998 but kept the find secret until officials could map the cave, record the art in photographs and drawings and construct an iron gate to prevent thieves or vandals from getting into the cave. Authorities are not revealing the site.

State archaeologist Robert Birmingham said he believes the cave was a special place like a church where rituals were conducted.

“They’re not simply drawings left behind on the wall to sort of class up the place, but they were integrated into rituals,” Birmingham said.