Wet Cave with Fossils Found in Dry Desert
The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places on earth – it gets about 1mm of rainfall per year, if that – but scientists just discovered a wet cave there. Robert Roy Britt reported for Live Science that these desert caves can contain water, and at least one is loaded with fossils – indicating a moist climate for the region in the past.
The discovery was totally unexpected, the article says. There is even evidence of prehistoric human activity. Hundreds of thousands of bones in one of the Atacama caves, mixed with tree branches, were found eroding out of cave walls. The article contains a link to a photograph of ungulate bones seemingly jammed together in the wall in a haphazard manner. Ungulates (grazing animals that chew the cud) must have enjoyed a wealth of grass here at one time.
The team led by J. Judson Wynne of the SETI Institute was exploring the desert for caves that might resemble those on Mars, in hopes of finding likely places to look for life. Mars is still a question, but there was apparently plenty of life at this location in the past. The team is seeking to determine whether the bones were “dumped into the cave by prehistoric people or if perhaps they were trapped by a flood.” One of the team members was “marveling over the extent of this deposition as well as discussing what could have possibly led to the deposition of these bones.” Readers may want to follow the adventures of the expedition on Wynne’s blog.
Speaking of caves, another amazing underground feature has been exciting cavers since its discovery in New Mexico in 2001. A large passageway in old Fort Stanton Cave sports a river of crystal running for over four miles – the longest known cave formation in the world. See Live Science for the story. Named the Snowy River by its discoverers, it is unique and beautiful. They still have not determined how far it goes. The Bureau of Land Management tells about its discovery and has a photo gallery of the river and the cave. In a return trip last year, cavers were surprised to find water flowing over the crystal. It had been dry on previous surveys. Apparently new layers of calcite are deposited each time the underground river periodically flows.
What a planet we live on. There are still phenomenal discoveries to be made. Imagine hundreds of thousands of fossils and tree branches buried in one of the driest places on earth. What does that suggest?