Cultural - Mineral Hill Cave


The first written records of Mineral Hill Cave date from 1869. The area was surveyed by the federal government in 1869. The surveyor's notes, dated November 1869, contain the following notation:

 "On the NE side of Cave Hill is the entrance to quite an extensive cave. It consists of three chambers laying in a N. & S. direction and sloping down at an angle of about 3 degrees from the horizontal. These chambers are connected by very narrow and low passageways. The first and main chamber is about 100 feet long by 60 feet wide, with perpendicular walls and an arched roof 20 feet high. From the roof are suspended innumerable stalactites of carbonate of lime, which under the influence of a strong light produce a magnificently variegated and most intense reflection."

One of the main historic rock art panels in Mineral Hill Cave.  This panel shows dates of 1870 and 1871, which represent the earliest writings still preserved in the cave.  Other dates on this panel are from the 1890's, as well as almost every decade of the 20th century.

People visiting Mineral Hill Cave throughout the 19th and 20th centuries left their names preserved on various rocks and walls throughout the cave system.  The earliest of those still preserved in the cave date to 1870.


The test excavations were completed to determine the significance of the site for additional archaeological or paleontological remains. Several large pits had been illegally excavated in the cave near McGuire’s 1m by 2m unit, presumably sometime between the mid-1970's and the mid-1990's. Excavations revealed a large and diverse faunal assemblage. Excavations continued in the cave in 1998, 1999, and 2000. 

Bryan Hockett excavates in Chamber 5 during the 1997 field season.  Lighting in this portion of the cave was provided by headlamps, flashlights, rechargable lanterns, and a battery-operated flood lamp.

A total of 10 separate units, ranging in size from 30cm by 30cm to 2m by 1.5m, was excavated in the cave.

To the Lab ....
The Bones, Part 1 - Preservation, Age & Origin
The Bones, Part 2 - Species Present
More on Mineral Hill Cave - Workshop Paper
Mineral Hill Cave [Monograph] 

Mineral Hill Cave Introduction Home Page

Paul Buck of the DRI, Las Vegas (kneeling), Dave Rhode of the DRI, Reno (standing next to Buck) install halogen bulbs in a light fixture prior to the 1997 excavations.  Alberta White, volunteer (wearing overalls) checks a flashlight.  The entire cave, including the first chamber, is very dark.  Artificial light was necessary to conduct the excavations.  The 1997 excavation team hauled a 150 pound generator up the steep slope to the cave entrance to provide electricity to a series of halogen lamps.The first paleontological investigation of the cave deposits occurred in 1975. Kelly McGuire, then a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, excavated a 1m by 2m unit in Chamber 1.







Bob Elston, University of California, Davis, examines the "stratigraphy" in Chamber 1.  Similar to McGuire's findings 20 years earlier, the sediments in Chamber 1 appeared mixed.   However, the 1997 excavation team subdivided these sediments into possible 'natural' stratigraphic units based on differences in features such as the size of rock spalls, color, and amount of silt versus clay content.  Charcoal was recovered from each of these possible stratigraphic units, as well as many bones.  The charcoal and some of the bone specimens were then sent for radiocarbon dating.  Dating results indicated that these sediments were indeed thoroughly mixed in the past, probably by burrowing marmots.  Thus, bones found lower in the sediment profile were not necessarily older than those found in the upper profile.McGuire published the results of his excavation in 1980 (see McGuire, K. R. 1980. "Cave Sites, Faunal Analysis, and Big Game Hunters of the Great Basin: A Caution," Quaternary Research 14:263-268). McGuire identified the bones of many different animal species, including those of extinct species such as shrub ox (Eucerotherium sp.), horse (Equus sp.), and the large-headed llama (Hemiauchenia sp.). McGuire also identified the bones of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), mountain sheep (Ovis canadensis), pika (Ochotona princeps), and a variety of small carnivores and rodents, including skunk (Spilogale gracilis), fox (Vulpes vulpes), bobcat (Lynx rufus), coyote (Canis latrans), marmot (Marmota flaviventris), and woodrat (Neotoma cinerea). Although McGuire recovered charcoal from his excavations, these samples were not submitted for radiocarbon dating because of the mixed nature of the deposits in Chamber 1.

Bob Elston (standing) and Paul Buck (seated) examine the "stratigraphy" in Chamber 1.Thus, although the bones of extinct fauna indicated a Pleistocene age (sometime before 10,000 years ago), the precise age of the bones remained unknown. In 1997, the BLM, in cooperation with the Las Vegas and Reno branches of the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Utah Geological Survey, and Intermountain Research, excavated several small test units in Mineral Hill Cave.