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Paleontologist for a day

June 04, 2013

by: Debbie Haeberlin

I don’t know if there is a simple way to express all the amazing things Indiana Caverns has to offer. I am so blessed to just be a part of it and all the opportunities that come with this experience. In 2 years time I will be graduating with 2 Bachelors degrees from IUS, one in Earth Space Science in Education, and one in Geology. I have chosen to be an active participant in the paleodig going on at Indiana Caverns in order to expose the Ice Age Bones that lie in the cave mud just 2 inches deep in the muddy sediment. To be given the experience to learn and grow as a geologist by working on a paleontological dig that is less than half an hour away from my home is just beyond words. I will use this experience for my senior research project at IUS in geology. I will also share what this is like to you, the reader, as well as guests at Indiana Caverns and other staff members that wish to share my story.

My dig started on Tuesday May 21, 2013. I met with Rob Houchens, one of the owners to learn the basics of exposing our bones in the same manner he was taught by a paleontologist that had visited the cave. He showed me his dig site and explained how he had started with a small square, and slowly built out around it as bones became exposed.

Now in this dig, we aren’t dealing with rocks, but with clay sediment. As limestone breaks down and dissolves away, it leaves behind clay. The topmost layer is a bit squishy, but within an inch, the sediment thickens to a modeling clay consistency. The way the Earth works, sediment is always deposited in a horizontal layer (except for sand), this sediment peels up in layers exposing the sediment below.

We marked off a 12x12 inch section to begin the dig, then we sectioned out 9 smaller sections that were 4x4 inches. Based on the previous section we were anticipating an approximate 2 inches of depth before we found any bones, although we were quite careful with each piece of sediment in case bone was found closer to the surface.

As predicted the bones were abut 2 inches deep in the sediment. As I continued to peel layers, I lengthened my dig site by one more inch, so what is seen in the pictures is a 4 inches wide, 5 inches long, and 2 inches deep. In this tiny section we uncovered 2 small bones. Imagine that, a huge cave consisting of 36.2 miles, and the first place we looked we found Ice Age Bones. What other secrets does this cave have??

How long did it take to uncover this? 2.5 hours. The only light was what we had on our heads, laying on a cold muddy surface. Every now and then we had to shake out a wrist just to get the feeling back, but it was so worth it. I cannot wait to expose more of my dig site and see what else lies beneath. I hope some of you follow my story as I go back in time to discover what happened in Indiana Caverns over 15,000 years ago!!

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Open Daily:   9am

Tours leave frequently throughout the day. You must arrive no later than 4pm EDT on weekdays and 4:30 on Saturday and Sunday to be guaranteed a spot on the last tour of the day. The cave temperature is 56 degrees all year. Weather is never a problem.

Closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

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Indiana Caverns is just outside of Corydon, the first state capital of Indiana. Directly off I-64 at exit 105.

Call:  812-734-1200

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