Researchers Find Hundreds of Prehistoric Animals in Ancient Wyoming Cave

Aug 09, 2014 08:13 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Scientists excavating an ancient U.S. cave believed to contain the remains of Ice Age mammals have found hundreds of prehistoric animals.

The researchers are pretty sure the animals fell into the sinkhole and died, according to Reuters.

The excavation, made by an international team of paleontologists, was the first exploration of Natural Trap Cave at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming since it was first discovered back in the 1970s. 

They found almost 200 large bones of animals like American bison, horses, cheetahs, and wolves that likely existed in North America 12,000 to 23,000 years ago, Reuters said.

"We found evidence of bison, a bit of gray wolf and quite a lot of cheetah and horse," said Julie Meachen, a paleontologist at the Des Moines University. "Some bones still have collagen with intact DNA for genetic testing, and some fossils are fragments crushed by rocks. But we take it for what it is when we find it."

Besides the animal bones, the researchers also found a large amount of microfossils of creatures like lizards, snakes, and birds. They believe the new findings could help them better understand the diets, climate and genetic diversity of ancient creatures of North America that fell victim to the Ice Age  extinction more than 10,000 years ago.

Just one hole in the ground serves as the entrance into to the cave where many animals dropped 80 feet to their deaths, according to Reuters.

They added that bones are buried in sediment as much as 30 feet deep and that the cave's cold and damp conditions could have helped the fossils remain preserved.

The well-preserved remains are being sent to universities in the U.S. as well as the Australian Center for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, according to Brent Breithaupt, a paleontologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

"It's an incredible site. It definitely is one of the most significant sites that BLM manages, and it will provide very, very important information," Breithaupt said to the Associated Press.

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