A millennia ago, Native Americans entered the dark recesses of a cave in eastern Missouri and painted an astonishing array of human, animal, and supernatural creatures on its walls. Known as Picture Cave, it was a hallowed site for sacred rituals and rites of passage, for explaining the multi-layered cosmos, for vision quests, for communing with spirits in the "other world," and for burying the dead. The number, variety, and complexity of images make Picture Cave one of the most significant prehistoric sites in North America, similar in importance to Cahokia and Chaco Canyon. Indeed, scholars will be able to use it to reconstruct much of the Native American symbolism of the early Western Mississippian world.
The Picture Cave Interdisciplinary Project brought together specialists in American Indian art and iconography, two artists, Osage Indian elders, a museum curator, a folklorist, and an internationally renowned cave archaeologist to produce the first complete documentation of the pictographs on the cave walls and the first interpretations of their meanings and significance. This extensively illustrated volume presents the Project's findings, including an introduction to Picture Cave and prehistoric cave art and technical analyses of pigments, radiocarbon dating, spatial order, and archaeological remains. Interpretations of the cave's imagery, from individual motifs to complex panels; the responses of contemporary artists; and interviews with Osage elders (descendants of the people who made the art), describing what Picture Cave means to them today, are also included. A visual glossary of all the images in Picture Cave as well as panoramic views complete this pathfinding volume.