NH Notes: Natural Trap Cave – An Ice Age Fauna Snapshot

A 15-foot-wide metal grate covers a hole in a bare rock outcrop in the high desert of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.  Beneath the grate lies a 80 foot vertical drop to into a cavern with no other exit.  At the base of cavern situated below the hole in the ceiling are up to 30 feet of layers of sediment and bones.   Welcome to Natural Trap Cave.  Actually, it isn’t all the welcoming since for  10s of thousands of years every animal that has fallen into the cave has died there.  Briefly investigated 30 years ago after its initial discovery, the cave has been sealed off until this summer.  Now a group of paleontologists are re-entering the cave to do a more thorough investigation of the 10s of thousands of animals that lie entombed there. They hope to extract DNA from bones and sequence the genomes of some extinct Ice Age animals.

North American lions, cheetahs, various antelope, bears, rabbits, and many other small mammal are already known from massive pile of bones.  The majority of these animals became extinct in North America before the first people arrived.

In this cave, these animals all met their fate when they fell into the cave and could not escape.   But ask yourself, how often would that happen?   Look at the picture bellow, what bear or lion would jump into a 80 foot black hole on purpose? Animals aren’t that dumb. The aren’t walking around with cell-phones texting and falling into holes. Each of the 10s of thousands of animals at the base of his hug pit are the result of a very unfortunate, rare and individual event.  For example,  a pronghorn could have been chased by a lion and one or both run over the edge and fallen to their death. Even if there were thousands of pronghorn and hundreds of lions living in this region this event can’t be expected to have happened more than once a year at best and more likely would only have occurred once every few decades.

Entrance to Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming.

Entrance to Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming.  This is a desert region now but it was probably had more vegetation during the Ice Age when there was more moisture and cooler temperatures.

This one cave represents only a tiny fraction of the Ice Age fossils we have recovered.  How many Ice Animals must have existed in populations for so many to have met such an unfortunate fate as falling into a pit or getting stuck in a gooey tar lake?

Justin Sipla ascends up a rope 80 feet after working at the bottom of the Natural Trap Cave in north-central Wyoming in July 2014. AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management

Justin Sipla ascends up a rope 80 feet after working at the bottom of the Natural Trap Cave in north-central Wyoming in July 2014.
AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management

Recently on Age of Rocks this same natural trap was used to highlight a big population biology problem for creation “scientists”.   I highly recommend the post:  Geological death traps and the impossibility of a post-Flood migration from Ararat.   From this post, which I highly recommend, we read about this cave:

Geological death traps, like the sinkhole cave in Wyoming, tend to work like a semi-biased population census. Only the most desperate or distracted individuals fell into the trap, but all of them had to be living or migrating in the vicinity of the cave. In other words, the pile of fossils at the bottom of this single cave—reportedly as high as 30-feet!—constitutes but a small fraction of the ice-age population living in the region that would become our great state of Wyoming. If thousands of individuals now rest in the bone graveyard, the regional mammalian population could not have been less than hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

As Age of Rocks points out this cave is essentially a random sampler of the Ice Age fauna and must represent only a small fraction of the population.  That post goes on to explore the significance of these density of Ice Age fossils for the young earth creationist’ model of an Ice Age only 4250 years ago that lasted only a few hundred years.

The biological principles of population growth, rates of migration, and chances of preservation in the fossil record all strongly suggest that Ice Age fauna were part of the North American ecology for 10s of thousands of years if not hundreds of thousands of years.  There is no viable genetic or population ecology model that would allow for massive populations to have migrated from the middle east region, adapted to new environments and been preserved in traps such as this one in Wyoming in the time-frame required by YECs.

That time frame grows even shorter when one must account for the fact that most of these bones accumulated prior to the first people to North American.  This would leave less than 200 years for animals to migrate from Noah’s ark to North America across the Bering land bridge at the beginning of an Ice Age in 2250 BC, reproduce to fill the entire land with millions of animals of each species and then for most of them to die out prior to the man arriving 100 to 200 years later.  Remember that man had to arrive in North America during the last Ice Age and not afterward because remains of people are found under lake Huron (Man-Made Hunting Structure Found Under Lake Huron) and in underwater caves in Mexico (Underwater Cave Yields Remains of Teenage from the Ice Age) and off the coast of Florida (Ice Age ) all of which were only accessible to man at times when sea level was lower due to the amount of water bound up in massive ice sheets.

The compression of the Ice Age and even more so the millions of animals that lived during that time into a few hundred year period is one of the most desperate attempts of YECs to defend their version of the Earth’s history.   But they are bound by the secular – not biblical – evidence for an Ice Age and a set of animals adapted to that age. That evidence is so strong that they feel they have to accommodate that data in their compacted timeline of events.  That accommodation though necessitates a fanciful set of speculations that they must promote as the truth to maintain their worldview.

The Answers in Genesis conception of when the ice age occurred after the Flood. Source: AIG page http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/ka/v8/n2/when-was-ice-age

The Answers in Genesis conception of when the ice age occurred after the Flood. Source: AIG page http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/ka/v8/n2/when-was-ice-age


  1. steve roesler says:

    You’ve made a number of assumptions that may or may not be accurate – that there are 30 feet of bones and sediment, that the bones are all from Ice Age animals, that the cave forever had only one opening and that there were never others which now have closed, that in a YEC scenario, animals arrived there before man, that the animals would have necessarily populated the land by the thousands in the span of 200 years, and that the specimens in the cave constitute a “random” sample. You’ve created an explanation for the YEC’s based on incomplete knowledge of what is even in the cave. I’m thinking it would be prudent to first identify what is there, and then give the creationists an opportunity to explain the evidence before attempting to debunk their theory. steve.


  2. Hi Steve, I agree, there are a lot of assumptions there. If it were just this cave then my main point would be quite speculative at this point. But put in the broader context of hundreds of other much better studies Ice Age deposits including places like the LaBrea Tar Pits the overall picture is quite robust. Given what we know from these other locations my assumptions are more than reasonable. Yes, there could be other entrances but even so it seems unlikely the majority of the bones would come to rest under the window of the current opening above them. All the bones may not be from the Ice Age. I’m pretty sure they aren’t since the opening has existed to the current time. However a sampling of the bones suggests that if there are any other animals they must be rare. And this is not surprising given the climate of this region the past couple thousand years. I would not assume that the animals populated the land in as little as 200 years, that is an assumption that can be gathered from the YEC literature. So I agree we don’t know the specifics from this location but the most obvious and natural interpretation of the location is one that requires thousands of years of inputs of material. Even without specific knowledge the burden is on the young earth model to develop a compelling (not just possible) scenario for the species composition and density of material here.


  3. This work deserves more comment (even 2 years & 2 months after the fact). Steve, or any YECs reading this, should explain how this great, empty limestone shaft was suddenly in place post-Flood, if the limestone must have been a solid Flood deposit. Then also, how long for stream erosion however far away to lower the water table here (and an unknown distance below the present cave floor), to make it a dry cave for who knows how long? We’re told that Flood limestone could have been a precipitate – but who’s thinking about a dinner-plate fossil coral that an Iowa friend at work pulled out of a side-hill formation – how was it “washed” anywhere without damage to it? Right here in Cedar Rapids, I found a rigid (original aragonite, now just a star-burst mold in limestone) sea urchin 5″ across from point to pointy point. Not tumbled anywhere. Thus created as is (Genesis 1), as Hebrews 11:3 should be telling you. It tells me the same about coal deposits worldwide. GLL


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