July 29, 2008

Cavers Recover 11,000-Year-Old Bear Bones

Cave divers have recovered an almost complete skeleton of a bear that is believed to have died some 11,000 years ago.

The cavers in the Scottish Highlands first found pieces of bone in 1995 while exploring a network of caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland, but only recently reached some of the final fragments.

The bones are now being studied at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh to try and establish whether it was a brown or polar bear.

Genetics experts at Trinity College in Dublin are performing DNA tests on the bones.

In March, the BBC Scotland News reported fresh studies being carried out on the skull of a bear found in the same caves system in 1927.

It took 12 years of wriggling through narrow spaces and moving soil to unblock entrances for cave divers to recover all that they could of the more recent discovery.

"It's been a long period of hard work and intense effort, but we are pleased to report that we have been successful in removing the bear bones from the chamber called Uamh an Claonaite," said the Edinburgh-based club's Ivan Young.

"We have recovered all visible bone material and several bones partially covered in fine sediment and rock breakdown from the roof of the passage."

The skull, the second lower mandible, fragments of upper mandible, vertebrae, ribs, most of the long bones, the main elements making up the pelvis, and several elements from the feet were among the remains found.

Young said it was probably 70 to 80 percent of the bear's remains.

"The bones are now at our conservation centre at National Museums collection centre, Edinburgh, where our first priority is to preserve and stabilize them, as they are relatively fragile," said Dr. Andrew Kitchener.

"After that we plan to take this exciting discovery a step further by radiocarbon dating them to discover when the bear died.

Kitchener believed it wasn't possible to tell if the bones belonged to a brown or polar bear, based on the lower mandible they already have.


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