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Paleontology bring new discoveries from old bones

By Juana Jones
On September 27, 2018

The Ice Age animals were brought back to life on Sept. 24, as Dr. Julie Meachen spoke to Kirkwood Community College students about her adventures in paleontology.
Meachen has a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California and is currently a professor at Des Moines University.
Meachen holds the achievements of being the first from her college to receive an NSF Grant, making several new discoveries and doing research at Natural Trap Cave for five years.
When asked about the best  part of her job, Meachen said, “I really just liked being able to explore different sites and explore museum collections and find about how animals have changed since the last Ice Age.”  
She went on to say, “For example, with coyotes, one of the coolest things about them is they have changed a lot since the last Ice Age. They were much bigger. They’ve also changed what they eat and so they’re almost a different species. And so, finding out those things and being then to apply them to modern questions is one of the most amazing things.”
Natural Trap Cave is a gold mine of fossil records ranging from before for the last glacial maximum, approximately 30 million years ago, to the current day. Natural Trap Cave is found in the flats of northern Wyoming and its entrance is a sudden 85-foot drop into the cave.
Meachen said animals on the run from predators would suddenly fall into the hole and be trapped until it died if the fall didn’t kill them. Some of the fossils and remains found in Natural Trap Cave are Dire wolves, giant coyotes and bison.
Meachen said with all the potential the cave offers, it draws many scientists and groups to study it. However, the government has heavily restricted access to the site.
The first discovery of remains at the site happened in 1970 and continued until 1985 and no one else was allowed back until 2014.
Currently, Meachen has plans to return to Natural Trap Cave and continue her research of the extensive fossil collections.  

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