Prehistoric time capsule: cave contains bones from Pleistocene epoch

An incredible prehistoric time capsule was found in a Siberian cave in Asia. Untouched for 42,000 years, the cave holds a treasure trove of Pleistocene animal bones.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello

Scientists from the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have uncovered an extraordinary prehistoric time capsule in the heart of Siberia. This untrodden cave in Khakassia (Frost) is believed to be the largest ancient hyena lair ever found in Asia, dating back approximately 42,000 years.

The paleontologists found a vast array of animal bones, representing predator and prey species from the Pleistocene epoch, scattered throughout the cave. The assemblage includes brown bears, foxes, wolves, mammoths, rhinos, yaks, deer, gazelles, bison, horses, rodents, birds, fish, and even frogs.

This extraordinary collection of fossils provides a rare glimpse into the region's rich biodiversity during the Pleistocene era, which spanned from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago.

Capturing the significance of this remarkable find, Dmitry Gimranov, senior researcher, said, "In Russia, there is a similar cave known as the Cave of the Geographical Society in the Far East. However, the materials found there are limited, and complete hyena skulls are extremely rare. Our team discovered not just one but two whole skulls, making this discovery truly exceptional."

The cave, known as Frost Grotto, stands out for its unique preservation conditions. The bones are situated on the cave's surface and remain remarkably intact, some even ice-cased. The fossils offer a tantalizing glimpse into the past, revealing the presence of ancient brown bears, foxes, wolves, mammoths, rhinos, and various other animals. Among the remarkable findings are also remnants of frogs, toads, birds, and fish, offering valuable insights into the diverse ecosystem that once thrived in the region.

Prehistoric time capsule: cave contains bones from Pleistocene epoch
Hyena skull

Dmitry Malikov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explains the broader implications of the discovery: "The finds provide crucial information about the flora and fauna of that time, shedding light on the animals' diet and the climatic conditions of the region. Additionally, coprolites—fossilized feces—will provide further important insights."

Credit for the discovery to residents

The Frost Grotto's discovery owes credit to local residents who stumbled upon it five years ago. Pavel Gridnev, chairman of the Abakan Speleologists Club, recalls the momentous occasion: "We visited the site for the first time in June 2022 and immediately found the entrance to the cave. Its sheer size was astounding. While the Borodinskaya cave is the largest in Siberia, the Frost Grotto comes in a close second. It's truly a remarkable find for Khakassia."

The researchers have identified compelling evidence supporting the notion that the cave served as a hyena den. Gnawed bones and several anatomically arranged remains, including gnawed rhinos, elephants, and deer bones, provide compelling evidence of hyenas dragging carcass parts into the lair.

Moreover, the cave is teeming with bones from hyena pups, offering a unique opportunity to study their growth patterns, dietary habits, and dental development.

The significance of this prehistoric time capsule cannot be overstated. It promises to deepen our understanding of the Pleistocene epoch, providing invaluable insights into the ancient fauna and the ecological dynamics of the time.

The collected bones, weighing approximately 400 kg, have been carefully transported to Yekaterinburg for further analysis, offering researchers a window into a world frozen in time—a world that existed some 42,000 years ago and has remained hidden until now.

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