OLD BONES - SVP'S BLOG

Fieldwork Travelogue: Paleontology at Natural Trap Cave #NTCave15

I've spent the last two weeks working at Natural Trap Cave, in the high elevations of north-central Wyoming. It was amazing!
 

Natural Trap Cave.
Natural Trap Cave.
 

Natural Trap Cave was actively excavated in the 1970's and 180's by field crews mostly from the University of Kansas. Then, it was closed down and has sat fallow for 30 years.
 

Gated, but not forgotten.
Gated, but not forgotten.
 

Now, we've gotten down into the cave once again, this time to explore the potential for preserved DNA in the bones.
 

PI Alan Cooper collects DNA samples in the cave.
PI Alan Cooper collects DNA samples in the cave.
 

Because the cave maintains an approximately 40 degree Fahrenheit temperature year-round, it's possible that DNA has survived the 20,000 years or so since the animals whose bones we collect fell in.
 

The great challenge here is that the only way in or out of the cave is up or down a single rope, which is about 65 vertical feet of climbing or rappelling.
 

Scientist Justin Sipla climbs out of the cave.
Scientist Justin Sipla climbs out of the cave.
 
PI Julie Meachen climbs from the cave.
PI Julie Meachen emerges after a long day.
 

This project would not be possible were it not for experienced cavers from local grottos working to ensure the best in safety and training for all who enter the cave.
 

The project also benefits from the terrific insights of the cavers as well. They can read a cave and tell us things we never would have considered. Because of the cavers, we are now exploring new hypotheses about how the cave came to contain it's amazing fauna.
 

Justin (left) and Juan (right) excavating a metapodial bone.
Scientist Justin Sipla (left) and caver Juan Laden (right) excavating a metapodial bone in a new test pit.
 

We have found the remains of sheep, bison, horse, American lions, American cheetahs, wolves, and coyotes within the sediments of the cave. Far too many things to highlight here.
 

North American cheetah lower jaw fragment with the first molar.
North American cheetah lower jaw fragment with the first molar.
 

If you want to follow the excavations as they continue for the next two weeks (or look back on the first two weeks), check out the Twitter hashtag #NTCave15. I also blogged daily on my personal blog while I was there.

Me on my way down at the beginning of the work day. (Photo by Juan Laden.)
Me on my way down at the beginning of the work day. (Photo by Juan Laden.)

 

I'll be back next year to work the site again. I'm totally looking forward to it!

Posted: 7/27/2015 12:00:00 AM by host | with 0 comments
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