Natural Trap Cave Fossils To Be Archived At The University Of Wyoming

May 17, 2017

Part of the collection of some 1000 bones found in Natural Trap Cave that will be archived at the University of Wyoming.
Credit Julie Meachen

Over a thousand fossils collected from the bottom of the 82-foot-deep Natural Trap Cave in northern Wyoming will soon be stored at the University of Wyoming. The collection will likely triple the size of the university’s Pleistocene collection.

Julie Meachen is one of the lead scientists on the project and has spent her last two summers excavating the cave. She said 20,000 years ago, a huge diversity of animals fell into the cavern and were trapped. She says that has allowed scientists a unique opportunity to document the many species of that era.

“[There's] a lot of mammal species, including some things like the American lion and the American cheetah-like cat and the short-faced bear and wolves and camels and bighorn sheep and bison,” Meachen said. “We have confirmed that there were coyotes at the site.”

Meachen said most of the collection from a 1970s excavation of the cave is stored at the University of Kansas. But she said when Wyomingites grumbled about taking Wyoming fossils out of state, UW volunteered to store them instead. Meachen said the hope is that the collection will be accessible to more than just researchers.

“Usually the general public don’t go back into the collection,” said Meachen. “However, the Wyoming museum is really excited about doing an exhibit on Natural Trap Cave, using some of the specimens that we have also using replicas of bones and things like that.”

Meachen said this summer will be the last season of excavation in the cave until more money can be raised to launch another dig.