Cultural - Mineral Hills

Mineral Hill Cave

The links below will take you on a virtual tour of Mineral Hill Cave. Learn about the cave's history, research conducted in the cave in the past, BLM's current research project, the animal remains identified from the current excavations, and more.

BLM archaeologists Bryan Hockett and Eric Dillingham, as well as researchers from across the country have analyzed all of the bones recovered from past and current scientific excavations. The BLM has published the monograph which is available below. If you're ready, click on the first link below, and let's go back in time .....  



The environment surrounding Mineral Hill Cave.  The trees you see are Utah Juniper and Pinyon pine.  Pinyon trees did not migrate to this portion of the Great Basin until about 7,000 years ago.   Neither of these trees were likely present when the majority of bones were deposited in the cave.  A spring and small stream perennially flow in the canyon bottom.Mineral Hill Cave is located in northeastern Nevada on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Elko Field Office. It is located in pinyon-juniper-big sagebrush habitat at 7,000 feet above sea level.

Mineral Hill Cave is about 90 meters (300 feet) in length. The cave is subdivided into five distinct chambers. The ceiling is high enough for an adult human to stand in chambers 1, 2, and 4. Sediment has nearly filled chambers 3 and 5 to the ceiling such that access into these chambers is on hands-and-knees only. BLM archaeologist and project leader for the Mineral Hill Cave excavations, Bryan Hockett, works in Chamber 5, approximately 300 feet underground.  Note that the ceiling is directly above his hardhat.   Sediment nearly filled this chamber to the ceiling, although in places bedrock is only 30cm to 50cm deep.  No natural light penetrates the back chamber



In addition, there is a narrow (20-30cm) wide passageway that separates chambers 1 and 2 from the back chambers.

History of Research at Mineral Hill 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]

The entrance to Mineral Hill Cave.   The entrance is currently quite small, and slopes steeply downward into Chamber 1.   In the past, this entrance probably was much wider, as it appears that a large section of rock (to the left of this picture) fell from above the entrance and nearly sealed the entire cave from all but the smallest creatures.

Mineral Hill Cave currently has a single entrance although evidence suggests that in the past the cave probably had multiple entrances. The cave was formed in limestone, probably by a combination of water erosion and tectonic activity.



Water continues to drip into the cave, forming a variety of formations often seCalcium carbonate has formed into a variety of cave formations throughout Mineral Hill Cave.  Dating of these formations indicate that they have been forming for at least 300,000 years.  Some of the bones recovered during excavations are at least 50,000 years old - some may be much older. Excavations have not damaged any of these delicate formations.en in limestone caverns Rhawn Denniston of the University of Iowa has dated a number of the stalactites and stalagmites (or speleothems) from the cave using the Uranium-Thorium dating method. All of the speleothems dated older than 300,000 years ago, indicating that the cave has been actively forming speleothems for hundreds of thousands of years.

The laminated clays found in some parts of Chamber 5.  These fine layers of clay are typical of lake or pond sediments in which water rushes in for a time, then remains relatively still for a period of time.   This allows the fine-grained sediments suspended in the water to slowly settle to the bottom.  Each influx of water creates a unique band of sediment, called varves.   These sediments indicate that water rushed into the back chamber of the cave and ponded many times in the past.  The whitish calcite crystals near the bottom of the photo is bedrock, about 55cm below the present surface of the cave floor.  Few bones were found in these clays.Most of the sediment in Mineral Hill Cave consists of limestone spalls, pieces of broken speleothems, and wet clay. Large boulders are also present in most of the chambers. The fault lines which run through the cave system may help explain the presence of these boulders; past earthquake activity may have caused large boulders (and smaller speleothems) to become detached from the ceilings and walls of the cave and fall onto the cave floor. Much of the clay probably washed into the cave periodically in the past, perhaps from other, now-collapsed entrances. Marmots have churned much of the deposits throughout the cave, but chamber 5 contains water-borne, fine-grained sediments typical of lake or pond deposits.