US cave unearths a treasure trove of animals

2014-08-11 13:45


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cheyenne - Scientists excavating an ancient Wyoming sinkhole containing a rare trove of fossils of Ice Age mammals have unearthed hundreds of bones of such prehistoric animals as American cheetahs, a palaeontologist said on Friday.

The two-week dig by an international team of researchers led by Des Moines University palaeontologist Julie Meachen marked the first exploration of Natural Trap Cave at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming since its initial discovery in the 1970s.

Meachen said the extensive excavation that began late last month uncovered roughly 200 large bones of animals like horses that roamed North America from 12 000 to 23 000 years ago and an uncounted number of microfossils of creatures such as birds, lizards and snakes.

“We found evidence of bison, a bit of gray wolf and quite a lot of cheetah and horse”, she said of the first of three planned annual digs, which ended on Friday.

Researchers expect their study of the fossils to provide new insights into the climate, diets and genetic diversity of North American creatures that disappeared during the Ice Age extinction more than 10 000 years ago.

A number of animals that fell 85 feet to their deaths after stumbling into the 15-foot-wide mouth of the cavern were unusually well preserved by cold and damp conditions, Meachen said.

“Some bones still have collagen with intact DNA for genetic testing and some fossils are fragments crushed by rocks. But we take it for what it is when we find it”, she said.

Meachen rappelled 10 times into the sinkhole, which widens to 36m at its base, and ascended with the use of ropes that also were used to haul out buckets of artefacts.

The opening of the cave, formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, has been covered for decades by a metal grate installed by federal land managers.

A pack rat fell into the cavern and died during the excavation but a deer mouse that plunged below ground survived and was sent by bucket to the surface and nursed back to health, Meachen said.

The carcass of the pack rat was left in the sinkhole to be studied over time as a measure of the decay rate of mammals in the cave, she said.

Read more on:    us  |  animals  |  research  |  palaeontology

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.