Rare Find of Ancient Cave Art in Wisconsin

Nov. 21, 2000 -- Dan Arnold was crawling around a cave looking for ancient Indiancarvings and drawings when he stumbled upon 1,100-year-old charcoaldrawings that are being hailed as a major archaeological discovery.

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

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

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

Moccasin and Birch Bark Torches

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

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

Authorities determined through carbon dating that the paintingswere made around 900 A.D. It is the first time Wisconsin cave arthas been conclusively dated.

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

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

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

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

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

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