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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Visual Saliency of Cave Formations and its Implication for Cave Archaeology

  • Author(s): Bourgeois, Nicholas Adam
  • Advisor(s): Moyes, Holley
  • et al.

Visual saliency has been investigated by the cognitive sciences to explore how people perceive and understand their landscapes. Archaeological research involving visual saliency has been limited to either human manipulated environments or the interior of human-made constructions. My research explores visual saliency in relation to complex cave environments in Mesoamerica, to better understand how ancient peoples interacted with these spaces. I am testing the hypothesis that the location of ritual within the caves was influenced by the visual characteristics of naturally occurring cave formations. I conducted laboratory experiments that tested the visual saliency of natural cave formations. With the aid of eye tracking cameras, the direction of the visual focus of participants was measured and recorded while the participants briefly viewed images of cave formations. The data collected from the experiment indicates that the participants’ gazes were fixated on areas of extreme morphological contrast. These results confirm that the previously understood aspects of visual saliency are also applicable to complex cave environments and offers a new interpretative framework for future archaeological investigations into ritual human activity within caves.

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