Paleontologists have unearthed rare bones of ancient animals in their first excavation of a Wyoming cave in more than 30 years. The bones could be of the North American cheetah, bears, lions and other animals from the Pleistocene period. Excavation at the Natural Trap Cave began on July 27. Researchers have also recovered fossils of rodent bones.

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The Wyoming cave is a treasure trove of ancient fossils

The Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming is considered a treasure trove of the ancient fossils. It holds the remains of tens of thousands of unwary animals that fell into the 85-feet deep cavern. Its 15 feet entrance is so well hidden that you can hardly see it until you’ve almost plummeted in. The previous excavation was conducted in 1970s by paleontologists at the University of Kansas. But the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had sealed its entrance with a metal grate about 30 years ago before opening it on July 27.

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Brent Breithaupt, part of the exclusive team of scientists, told the Associated Press that his team is very excited, but the analysis is still in preliminary stages. The only way in or out of the cave is a 15-foot hole in the ground. Researchers had to rappel down 80 feet to excavate the floor of the Natural Trap Cave. The bones of ancient animals have formed a sediment of as much as 30 feet.

Fossils shipped from Wyoming to different universities

Since July 27, about 20 paleontologists, their assistants and some spelunking experts have been hauling, bucket by bucket, the ancient bones and bone-bearing remains. The best bone samples have been sent to the universities in the U.S. and other countries. Scientists at Australia’s University of Adelaide will be studying the bones to find snippets of genetic material of the extinct animals. Researchers believe that the oldest fossils could be as much as 100,000 years old.

Now scientists will get back to the laboratories to identify and date what they have found. The cave’s low temperature and high humidity is likely to have preserved the genetic material of extinct animals. Once again, the Bureau of Land Management will shut and lock the metal grate over the cave’s entrance to prevent modern-day animals. Next round of excavation is scheduled to begin next summer.