3D modeling reveals Native American cave art in a secret cave in Alabama, thought to be over a thousand years old.

The cave, which is unidentified to protect it from vandals and the well-meaning curious, was found in 1998. Radiocarbon dating on items found within have led researches to believe that it was occupied before European contact, over a thousand years ago. At such an age, it has been handled very, very cautiously. Archaeologists have wanted to take a closer look at the etchings just barely visible in the in the long-dried silt on the limestone walls, but without touching them.

3D photogammetry documentation is their solution. Detailed photos from many angles are used to make a highly accurate 3D model, on which lighting can then be manipulated to make even small, eroded shapes obvious.

What they found is possibly one of the richest cave art sites in North America. Intricate glyphs and images, some of them over 9 feet long, sprang into being.

Researches have identified one image as a diamondback rattlesnake, a sacred animal to the indigenous people native to the area. A human figure, possibly wearing an elaborate feathered costume, or perhaps mid-transformation. Abstract serpentine designs.

Due to the location of the cave, archaeologists believe the artists to be some of the same people who were building mounds in the Southeast, such as the Bottle Creek Indian Mounds. At Bottle Creek, 18 intentionally-made earth mounds rise an average of 50 feet above an otherwise flat swamp.

But this art is also new, unlike anything found so far in the area.

Professor Simek, from the University of Tennesse said: “These images are different than most of the ancient art so far observed in the American southeast and suggest that our understanding of that art may be based on incomplete data.”

Perhaps further use of 3D modeling will reveal more lost art, and help broaden that understanding.

Photo: Donn-beckh / Shutterstock