By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
8/12/2014 (10 months ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The remains of hundreds of Ice Age-era animals have been recovered in a sinkhole in Wyoming. The ancient sinkhole is believed to have opened up 25,000 years ago. Large numbers of unsuspecting creatures were swallowed up into the hole over hundreds of years. The remains of these creatures were preserved in these cool, dark conditions to the delight of archaeologists everywhere.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The North American lion and American cheetah are just a few of the specimens discovered at the new archaeological site, many of which became extinct tens of thousands of years ago. Smaller mammals have also been unearthed, such as fully preserved skeletons of tiny rodents best reserved for being studied under a microscope.
Natural Trap Cave, at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming, had gone unexplored for more than 30 years. Scientists had no idea of the scale of the remains they would discover when they began digging at the end of July.
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After a number of mammal bones rose to the surface, both Australian and American researchers were forced to rappel down an 85-foot drop to reach the bottom of the hole for further research.
The cave is only 15-feet wide. The sinkhole is on land belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and was first discovered by paleontologists in the 1970s.
The fossils of mammoths, short-faced bears, collared lemmings, and camels were unearthed under layers of sediment over a period of several years.
The finds represent only a fraction of the remains waiting to be discovered, and researchers hope that if they continue to dig down they may go on to find ancient mammals from as far back as 100,000 years ago.
"We didn't know what to expect. We hadn't been there in 30 years and we didn't know what the cave would be like," Julie Meachen, a professor at Des Moines University, told reporters.
"It's like a refrigerator in there. There is so much to dig. We have two more years for funding that we can be out there, so we are going to try to dig up as much as we can.
"Some of the bones we're finding there have collagen in them. That is where you could get the ancient DNA."
The best-preserved remains yielded so far are in the process of being packed up in coolers to be transported to universities in the U.S. and the Australian Center of Ancient DNA and the University of Adelaide for testing.
A metal grill will be bolted over the cave's entrance, to ensure it remains undisturbed until scientists can return next summer to carry out a fuller excavation.
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