Native American culture on display in charcoal drawings at Dunbar Cave in Clarksville

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Clarksville’s Dunbar Cave State Park is home to historic charcoal drawings of a Mississippi culture of Native Americans who lived in the area 1,000 years ago.

The designs along with other aspects of the cave will soon take center stage in a virtual tour that is currently in production and is expected to be completed and released to the public next year.

Dr. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee discusses the significance and significance of the designs found about a quarter of a mile inside Dunbar Cave.

Adam Neblett, a park warden for Dunbar Cave State Park, said the designs, discovered in 2005, are unique to Clarksville. Historians discovered them by accident while attempting to document historical graffiti in the cave.

“Dunbar Cave is the only place in the world where the public can see Native American rock art,” said Neblett. “Everything we do here at the park is not only about protecting works of art, but also telling stories, not only about what we think they mean, but also about the people who created them.”

The park is still learning the designs every day as more information about Mississippi culture is discovered.

A group of tourists and their ranger shine their flashlights in a pool formed inside the indoor hall at Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tennessee on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

A group of tourists and their ranger shine their flashlights in a pool formed inside the indoor hall at Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tennessee on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Neblett said the park has worked extensively with Native American tribes like the Eastern Band of Cherokee in an effort to learn more about this culture, something that no longer exists.

Due to the evolution of knowledge, Neblett said guests can visit and then revisit a year later and get different interpretations or information on the same designs.

Unique Charcoal Drawings at Dunbar Cave

The 40 charcoal drawings inside Dunbar’s Cave can be found about 200 meters from its entrance.

They represent what the park believes to be religious icons and mythical beings of Mississippian culture. Most of the designs are on a single wall, said Neblett.

“We don’t really know what they mean exactly, but based on the opinion of the archaeologists who work with the designs, (we think) they are religious icons,” Neblett said.

Hannah Davis, seasonal ranger performer, guides Alaina Wichterman, Matthew Brundage and Azia Moore through a cave tour at Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tennessee on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Hannah Davis, seasonal ranger performer, guides Alaina Wichterman, Matthew Brundage and Azia Moore through a cave tour at Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tennessee on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Mississippian culture dates back to 1,000 to 500 years ago.

Carbon dating on the drawings and torch fragments dates the charcoal paintings inside the cave to around 700 years, with carbon tests estimating the drawings to be 1350 AD, roughly 50 years old, said Neblett.

Dunbar’s Cave was perhaps the perfect backdrop for the Mississippi culture which viewed the caves as portals to the spirit world to a realm of supernatural creatures and monsters as part of their journey into the au- of the.

A cave salamander crawls along the limestone wall near the entrance to Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tenn. On Thursday, May 20, 2021.

A cave salamander crawls along the limestone wall near the entrance to Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tenn. On Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Charcoal images bathe the walls of Dunbar’s Cave and cave visitors can view them while taking a guided tour of the historic cave. The guides serve as interpreters to the audience, explaining the images, made up of celestial events and mythical beings to the audience.

When the drawings were discovered, information was sent to University of Tennessee professor Jan Simek, who researched and carbon dated the drawings to verify their authenticity.

After discovering the artwork, Neblett said cave tours took on a new direction, centering on historic drawings in the heart of Clarksville.

Contact reporter Craig Shoup at 419-559-7582 or by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @Craig_Shoup. To support its work, purchase a digital subscription to TheLeafChronicle.com.

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: Native American culture on display in charcoal drawings at Dunbar Cave in Clarksville


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