My Sister and I visited the Missouri Institute of Natural Science last week where they have artifacts found in the Riverbluff Cave nearby. The cave is about 830,000 years old (making it the oldest known fossil cave site in the US. The actual cave is not open to the public due to continuing research. But the museum's collection of artifacts and fossils are well worth checking out!
The cave Is located in the widespread karst landscape of the Springfield Plateau of the western Missouri Ozarks and developed within the soluble Mississippian limestones of the region.(Source) The cave and museum is located at 2327 W. Farm Road 190, Springfield, MO 65810
Until just over 10 years ago, no one knew of the existence of this cave. It was found during road excavation on September 11, 2001. While the rest of the country was reeling from what happened in NYC, the cave was discovered accidentally when the county was preparing to blast for a new road on the outskirts of Springfield, MO. I doesn't cost anything to visit the museum, they do ask for a modest donation if you are so inclined.
In order to protect the pristine, untouched condition of the cave, the county covered the entrance and created an air-tight locked door and passageway system to guard against intruders. The system was completed in April of 2002, and the things found in the cave went public later that month. 1
Once upon a Time In Riverbluff Cave...2
...tens of thousands of years ago, Missouri looked much different than it does today. We were in the middle of an Ice Age, and much of the earth was cold and covered by snow and ice. However, during periods when the glaciers covering the area diminished and melted---the interglacial stages of the Pleistocene (1.8 million to 11,000 years ago)--the climate of Missouri and the rest of the Midwest was actually warmer at times than it is today. During these interglacial stages an ecosystem characteristic of lower latitudes shifted northward, and Missouri became the home of such animals as the peccary, snakes and other reptiles, and even giant turtles. When the climate turned cooler with the onslaught of another glacial advance, Missouri's Pleistocene ecosystem shifted to that characteristic of a colder climate and a higher latitude. Many animals from both the warm and cold periods used Riverbluff throughout the years. Most of the animal findings within the cave, please remember, probably did not live there at the same time. Because of the variance in animals represented, the fossils and tracks found within the cave are potentially anywhere from 1 million to ten thousand years old.
The down and dirty of it1
Riverbluff Cave is approximately 2000 feet long from main entrance to back room. The heavily decorated main room occupies the first 200 feet of this. Width varies, and there are two side passages that poke out into the nether regions of the cave (one which contains snake remains, and one which is home to the largest congregation of peccary tracks in the world).
Why is this Cave So Important?1
Riverbluff is home to many firsts for the science community. First are the peccary tracks. Before, it was believed that peccary were typically only dragged into caves as food. The massive quantity of tracks found in the west passageway proves that theory wrong--it shows that herds of the wild pig-like creatures likely used the cave for shelter.
Second are the turtle shells. Studying the size, pattern and age of the shell, researchers have discovered that these shells likely belong to a never-before found species of turtle, though at least one of the shells is believed to have been an ancient ancestor to the Missouri box turtle.
Third, a truly amazing find has been the animal dung found inside the cave. Preserved dung is extremely rare, and by studying this fecal matter, we are able to discover what the diets of these animals were like.
One of the most impressive finds in the cave in my opinion was the Giant Short-faced Bear, they found claw marks on the side of the cave that would fifteen feet tall! There is also evidence of bear beds in the cave.This bear was about 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing 1,400 pounds) They also have a skull and many bones from this species.
The Short-Faced Bear (Artcodus Simus)2
The short-faced bear was the single most deadly predator of the Ice Age. It was bigger than the polar and grizzly bears, twice their weight, more carnivorous, and at the top of the food chain. The short-faced bear had a short, sleek, and stealthy body, with long, powerful legs, a short face, and a broad powerful muzzle filled with large piercing canines and jagged molars that could tear through the toughest hides and crush the thickest bones, including those of a mammoth or mastodon.
Here is a slide show of all of my pictures, to watch it in full screen mode, click the white arrow then once in full screen mode, (look for the little box in the lower right hand of the slide show), and click on "show titles" it will give you the picture captions:
Or you can find all of my pictures by going to my Missouri Institute of Natural History set on Flickr