During a recent Earthwatch Institute survey of archaeological remains in Mammoth Cave, a project was begun to find and record prehistoric images on the cave walls. I chose to analyze petroglyphs and pictographs on three panels in Main Cave. This article offers a hypothesis for the circumstances surrounding the rock art’s production: the geometric and anthropomorphic figures in Mammoth Cave are representative of a series of visual percepts experienced cross-culturally and caused by various conditions — including sensory deprivation, fatigue, and psychoactive drug use — acting on the ocular anatomy and nervous system. That is, the glyphs might be visual representations of simple hallucinations experienced by early cavers. These forms, “entoptic phenomena,” frequently occur in cave images and other artwork around the world, and are often ethnographically linked to shamanistic visions and other activities involving altered states of consciousness. The images in Mammoth Cave appear to represent several of the entoptic forms, and conditions of prehistoric cave exploration would have been ideal for experiencing them. Given this evidence, and considering the frequent use of caves for ritual activities across cultures, it is likely that Mammoth Cave Rock Art is linked to entoptic phenomena.
"Prehistoric Drawings in Mammoth Cave,"
Vol. 6, Article 14.
Available at: https://uknowledge.uky.edu/kaleidoscope/vol6/iss1/14