When you live in Florida, you get used to hearing about sink holes. When one opens up, it is filled with sand and rocks and everyone hopes it doesn’t continue to cause problems, especially if it occurred in a road. Before we moved here, I occasionally heard about a sink hole opening in other places, and they always seemed to swallow a car or two. But sink holes can be fickle things; some start out small and continue to grow until they are huge. Some seem to be bottomless pits that refuse to be filled, no matter how much sand and rocks are thrown into them.
Recently, I heard about a ‘sink hole’ in northern Wyoming, near the base of the Bighorn Mountains. Called Natural Trap Cave, it was discovered in 1970, when it was believed to be some 25,000 years old. Theory says that it opened up alongside a migratory trail used by many species, and they just kept falling in.
Located in a National Park, the sinkhole is 15 feet wide and (currently) 85 feet deep. Chances are that once an animal fell in, it wasn’t getting back out again. When it was first discovered, there was some digging of the bottom of the hole for a few years before it was closed up and left alone. In 2014, a new batch of scientists returned to do some more digging. They were only there for 2 weeks during August of that year, and before they could dig, they had to figure out how to safely get themselves and their gear to the bottom and up again. But what they found when they did get there was stunning; North American lions and American cheetahs, both of which went extinct about 12,000 years ago. During the 70s, scientists had discovered mammoths, short-faced bears, giant camels, and collared lemmings in the pit. Also discovered (but I’m not sure when) were dire wolves, tiny rodents that need to be studied by microscope, bison, grey wolves and horses.
Even though it was August, the scientists reported the hole was like a refrigerator. So much so that some of the skeletons still include DNA, so there will be huge strides in our knowledge of prehistoric genetics.
The 2014 group of paleontologists planned to continue their excavations another 2 years. They estimated that the depth of the pile of dead creatures could be 33 feet, and the digs of the 70s and 2014 had barely scratched the surface. With that said, they thought the bottom of this heap might have animals 100,000 years old.
If that turns out to be true, then this sink hole can’t be only 25,000 years old. That would make this one great, great grand-pappy of a sink hole. And amazingly stable for a sink hole, too.