FORT COLLINS--A day's work for Colorado State anthropologist Diane Waddle can include encounters with deadly cobras, excavations on steep walls using rock-climbing equipment and traveling to fossil sites on roads so rough a kidney belt is required.
But the treacherous conditions are worth the bounty Waddle and two other anthropologists recently uncovered in a remote limestone cave in Botswana, Africa: fossilized bones of thousands of tiny bats, shrews, birds and frogs as well as a complete skull of an adult primate and the jawbone of a juvenile primate believed to be ancient ancestors of present-day baboons.
The vast collection of fossils is one of the few uncovered in Botswana and contains well-preserved specimens of small mammals that may have roamed the earth sometime between 100,000 and 3 million years ago. Most likely used by owls and other mammals to eat their prey, the cave is so rich with fossils it's called Bone Cave.
Waddle and the other researchers believe the find can help fill the gap in the fossil record of Botswana, an area that has not been a major focus for anthropologists or archaeologists in recent years. Although there are numerous sites containing stone tools in Botswana, the only human or primate remains from Botswana are less than 10,000 years old and are fully modern. Other fossils found in Botswana have been from the Middle Stone Age, roughly 100,000 years and earlier.
"This is a great find because of the wealth of fossils in the cave," Waddle said. "It's particularly important because Botswana has virtually no fossil sites of this kind and there really is no fossil record of primates at all. Many fossil sites may only produce a few fossils.
"This is really impressive because it's like a big pile of bones glued together."
Waddle said the main reason that not much is known about the evolutionary history of this region is the remote location of the
caves; about an 11-hour drive from the nearest town. To get to Bon
Contact: Diane Waddle
Colorado State University