To have the Natural Trap Cave reopened after 30 years of conservation is exciting news for researchers. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided to remove the metal grate blocking the entrance to allow researchers have a look at the insides. The 85 feet deep cave has been a death trap for a long time for animals living in the surrounding area. The Natural Trap Cave climate is stable, with temperatures not going further than 50 degrees. The conditions are ideal for fossil conservation.
Until 1984, scientists discovered more than 40.000 specimens during the cave explorations which are exposed at University of Kansas. The cave has an 80 feet vertical drop and a similar width. According to paleontologist Xiaoming Wang University of Kansas alumni and presently curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, only about 10 percent of the fossils have been unearthed. Fossils of animals living in the area up to 100.000 years ago lie on the bottom of the cave.
Today was a good day for paleontology. Analysis of 140 million old dinosaur fossil discovered in China implies that all dinosaurs might have had feathers, a controversial debate among paleontologists.
Natural Trap Cave exploration halted in 1984 to preserve fossils for future analyses
In 1984 the researchers decided to halt the digging process. Because many fossils unearthed earlier started degrading, they decided to stop the exploration until more advanced investigation methods will be introduced. Back then, ancient DNA extraction was just a possibility, but now the whole process of DNA sequencing is feasible. The most important objective of this exploration will be that of finding out more about the Pleistocene extinction. The extinct American Cheetah is a mystery for researchers. If they find fossils belonging to the animal in the Natural Trap Cave, they will be able to trace its genetic connections with cheetahs from other parts of the world.
To access the material, researchers will first have to clear the mud and dirt gathered in the last 30 years. The excavation director warned the team that the whole process will require intense physical effort. The only way down and up will be through rope climbing. The exploration of the Natural Trap Cave will be carried for three summer months, one in 2014, and the other two in the subsequent years. The National Science Foundation funds the research.