Panther Cave Site

By: Solveig A. Turpin

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Panther Cave Site (41VV83), a large rockshelter famous for its elaborate prehistoric pictographs, lies on the left bank of Seminole Canyon just above its confluence with the Rio Grande, 8 ½ river miles downstream from the mouth of the Pecos River in Val Verde County. The site is named for the largest and most dramatic figure, a large leaping cat, but at least four more cats are discernible in the mass of overpainting that covers the rear of the main shelter. Several human figures wear headdresses resembling feline ears; the emphasis on this motif suggests it is a totemic or territorial symbol. No formal excavation of the cultural deposits in the shelter has been carried out because of their disturbed and eroded condition. The pictographs, however, have been studied by scholars since in 1932, and typologies have been devised of Lower Pecos pictograph styles based on superimposition, stylistic attributes, and similarities between objects recovered in systematic excavations and those painted in the pictographs. The art of Panther Cave belongs to the Pecos River Style, the predominant Lower Pecos art form, roughly dated to the Archaic Period, ca. 7000 B.C. to A.D. 600. This style is characterized by large, costumed, faceless, anthropomorphic figures generally called shamans and is considered to be a religious or magical ceremonial art. The sequential overpainting at Panther Cave indicates considerable reuse of the site, perhaps as the setting for group ceremonies. Panther Cave is now part of Seminole Canyon State Historical Park, and the National Park Service maintains a boat dock for the convenience of visitors from Lake Amistad. In order to limit vandalism, a chain-link fence has been constructed across the front of the main shelter. Documentation of the pictographs is available at the Texas Memorial Museum and at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin.

A. T. Jackson, Picture Writing of Texas Indians (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938). Solveig A. Turpin, Seminole Canyon (Texas Archeological Survey Report 83, University of Texas at Austin, 1982).
  • Archeology
  • Land Sites

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Solveig A. Turpin, “Panther Cave Site,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995