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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Tainter Cave

February 8, 2018

Tainter CaveTainter Cave represents the first deep cave archaeological site known for Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. Located near the top of an upland ridge top, this dry sandstone cave contains habitation deposits and more pictographs than any previously recorded site in this region. More than 100 rare drawings and carvings have been found in the cave’s three interconnected rooms that extend nearly 55 meters from a low, east-facing entrance. Natural light reaches only the front of the cave, so that artificial light is needed to see in the rear of the cave.

One of the drawings has been directly dated at 1100 years old. Others are thought to represent the period from about A.D. 500 to 1000 based on several diagnostic pottery fragments, the presence of bows and arrows, and styles of deer, which compare with the Effigy Mound Culture. One image may represent a longhorned buffalo and, if so, probably dates to the end of the ice age, nearly 10,000 years ago.

The cave has been impacted by extensive historic graffiti, which began in the mid-19th century and continued until the late 1990s. Nonetheless, much of the art work is in excellent condition. A gate has been installed at the entrance to the cave to prevent uninvited human access while maintaining natural environmental conditions.

Pictured are the entrance to Tainter cave before the gate (left) and a pictograph of running deer (right).  Link to more images from Tainter cave.