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Repository of Pleistocene Animal Bones Discovered
Bone remains of Ice Age animals were recently discovered in a southern Indiana cave. Initial examination indicates the find may be one of the most significant discoveries of ice age remains in a US cave. The cave where the bones were discovered will open to the public in late May as indiana Caverns.
In October 2010, ISS (Indiana Speleological Survey) cave explorers mapped up a nearly vertical slot into a oom that would soon be named “Big Bone Mountain”. At the time, it was a strenuous 10-12 hour cave trip to reach this room. Quickly the cavers noticed there were bones in the room. Photos were sent to Ron Richards, Chief Curator of Science and Technology at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. From the photos, Richards thought it most likely either a bison or a musk ox, but couldn’t be sure.
Due to the long trek to reach this section of the cave, they couldn’t get a paleontologist to the site. In May 2011, a somewhat shorter route was found and several more trips were taken to this area. More bones were seen in Big Bone Mountain as the explorers looked for passages in the floor of the room.
Finally in early June 2012, the developers of Indiana Caverns drilled a new entrance into Big Bone Mountain, which was only 20 feet below the surface. Ron Richards was now easily able to access the area and came down to do a paleontological survey on July 7, 2012.
Richards had been only been in the cave 20 minutes when he realized that Big Bone Mountain was a significant site for Pleistocene animal bones. He recorded “extinct Flat-headed peccary (Platygonus compressus), an ancient pig-like animal. Skulls are exposed at the surface, and the deposit in the room may contain 20- 40 individuals at minimum.” On the cave surface alone are apparently numerous peccar bones as well as black bear, fisher, owl other birds, a bison and even two snakes.
Numerous bear beds were found, some with peccary bones in them along the river passage. There are enough bones in the cave to keep several paleontologists excavating for years. There remains much more discover below the surface in the cave mud.
No evidence of modern visitation was found, so it is likely that a natural entrance to Big Bone Mountain closed up sometime near the end of the last ice age 12-14,000 years ago. Apparently the entrance area of the cave was used extensively for shelter by herds of peccary for 10, 15, or even 25,000 years prior to the closing of the entrance. There is a major drop off not far inside the new 30” hole drilled into one corner of the big room. Apparently an occasional peccary would lose its footing and fall over the ledge and not be able to get back up. Over centuries, many met a similar fate. Bears, peccary and other animals negotiated the rocks and made it to the lower stream level, where the bear beds are located.
It is apparent that Indiana Caverns is significant site for ice age animals. Developers of Indiana Caverns plan to coordinate with paleontologists to make sure the site is protected and available for research.
Indiana Caverns is scheduled to open for cave tours in the spring of 2013. For more information on Indiana Caverns visit IndianaCaverns.com or Facebook, which is updated daily development news.
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