Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Spelunking requires serious commitment — it’s dark, dirty adventuring down in some of the most remote environments on Earth. But the payoffs can be substantial: Cavers enjoy unfettered access to secret, strange places where very few have ever set foot before, and they might even find hidden treasure. Or sometimes, they find a big pile of bones.
But it’s an important pile of bones: Cavers in the Scottish Highlands have recovered a nearly complete skeleton of a bear that died inside the Uamh an Claonaite cave nearly 11,000 years ago. Scientists are currently performing DNA tests on the remains to determine whether the skeleton belonged to a polar bear, cave bear, or brown bear.
Cavers first discovered bones in 1995 and have spent 12 more years crawling around in search of the rest. The Grampian Speleological Group, based in Edinburgh, only just recovered the final fragments.
The Edinburgh-based club’s Ivan Young said: “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.
He added: “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 bones will now reside at the National Museums collection center in Edinburgh, where they will be preserved and stabilized for analysis. Brown bears disappeared from England before the Romans invaded, and polar bears have been absent since the last ice age.
So the next time you go caving, keep your eyes peeled — those dusty old bones might be worth something. Just pray you don’t run into any of these.
— Ted Alvarez