For the first time in three decades, scientists are about to revisit one of North America’s most remarkable troves of ancient fossils: the bones of tens of thousands of animals piled at least 10 metres deep at the bottom of a sinkhole-type cave.
Natural Trap Cave in north-central Wyoming is 25 metres and almost impossible to see until you’re standing right next to it. Over tens of thousands of years, many, many animals – including now-extinct mammoths, short-faced bears, American lions and American cheetahs – shared the misfortune of not noticing the 3-metre-wide opening until they were plunging to their deaths.
Now, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is preparing to reopen a metal grate over the opening to offer scientists what may be their best look yet at the variety of critters that roamed the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains during the planet’s last glacial period around 25,000 years ago.
Des Moines University palaeontologist Julie Meachen said she has been getting ready to lead the international team of a dozen researchers and assistants by hitting the climbing gym.
“I’m pretty terrified,” Meachen admitted Wednesday.
In an image provided by the Bureau of Land Management, date not known, Bureau of Land Management cave specialist Bryan McKenzie rappels into Natural Trap Cave in north-central Wyoming during a cleanup expedition.