Missouri’s Picture Cave is considered by leading archaeologists as “the most important rock art site in North America.” On September 14th this year Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers is selling the Picture Cave at auction and according to their website the millennia old ancient site is estimated to be worth 1-3 million dollars (854,000-2,560,000 Euros).
Picture Cave is located on a private estate amidst a wild and hostile environment in eastern central Missouri. The site is “not” open to the public, so don’t even think about it. The cave is however open to Myotis sodalis, a rare indigenous colony of Indiana bats that according to the National Wildlife Federation is on the endangered list.
The site for sale comprises a two-cave system, which according to the website of archaeologist Professor Michael Fuller, holds almost 300 Native American polychrome paintings, and is hidden deep within 43 acres (17 hectares) of wild undeveloped woodland.
Some of the Picture Cave rock art is almost childish, as if it was sketched out by a child yesterday, has uncorrected C-14 date of AD 1000 +/- 100, Diaz-Granados et al. 2015 . ( Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers )
Picture Cave Is North America’s Most Important Rock Art Cave
In 1964, Jerry Vineyard, a cave specialist with the Missouri Geological Survey and Water Resources, first wrote about Picture Cave. The researcher explained that in 19th century the cave was called the “Bottomless Cave” because folklore maintained that a curious pit at the back of the cave “never yielded a sound when rocks were dropped down the shaft.” It later turned out that thousands of years of bat guano was muffling the sounds of falling rocks.
According to an article on the Kansas City website, archaeologist Carol Diaz-Granados, has spent several years studying the rock art on the walls of the cave. “ We know it ’s not simple graffiti ,” said Diaz-Granados who believes the ancient cultures were “trying to tell a story or an oral tradition.” And it was Diaz-Granados who said that “beyond any doubt this is the most important rock art site in North America.”
This Picture Cave rock art image is almost like a work of modern art. ( Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers )
Dating And Understand The Ancient Cave Pictures
In 2015 an entire monograph of the site was published . Professor Blankenship used SEM-EDS (Scanning Electron Microscope – Energy Dispersive X-ray spectroscopy) on six pigment samples . Then, in 2020 the landowner, his son and his grandson applied XRF (X-ray fluorescence) equipment and recorded video segments of the major ancient art panels. The dating results were crystal clear! Picture Cave holds the earliest arts from the Mississippian Period (1100-1541 AD), according to the Columbia Missourian.
The National Park Service website states that this period of time saw “the introduction of small projectile points , indicative of the use of the bow, and the use of new manufacturing techniques in ceramics.” These new technologies are depicted in the cave panels which show hunters and animals, as if the ancient people were celebrating their ingenuity in grand art works. But there are also abstract geometric forms, psychedelic in form, perhaps harking back to the visions and dreams of the shamanic classes who controlled this ceremonial site.
An ancient almost black and white rock art example at Picture Cave, Missouri. ( Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers )
Might The Rare Bats Slash The Expected Sale Price?
The Selkirk Auctioneers description of the site highlights the two-cave system that “boasts massive panels of over 290 prehistoric glyphs making it the largest collection of indigenous people ’s polychrome paintings in Missouri.”
And let’s not forget that Picture Cave ’s importance challenges the influential sites rock art sites of Cahokia (across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri) and Chaco Canyon (Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located in northwestern New Mexico).
The number and variety of styles of the images is remarkable. ( Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers )
The Columbia Missourian said “the quantity and complexity of the wall images, like the renowned depiction of Red Horn,” are unmatched compared to other prehistoric sites. This is why the auctioneers believe the ancient Native American sacred cave will probably fetch between one and three million dollars (854,000-2,560,000 Euros).
However, did you notice at the beginning that I mentioned a rare species of bat that lives in Picture Cave? That fact might take the price down to the lower end of the valuation, for U.S. bat protection laws will heavily restrict any activity at the cave.
Top image: Hunting scene painted on the wall of Picture Cave, Missouri, USA. Source: Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers
By Ashley Cowie
Diaz-Granados, Carol, Marvin W. Rowe, James R. Duncan, and John R. Southon, 2015. ‘ AMS Radiocarbon dates for Charcoal from Three Pictographs and their Associated Iconography. in Picture Cave’. Edited by Carol Diaz-Granados, James R. Duncan, and F. Kent Reilly II. University of Texas Press, Austin.