Scientists discover treasure trove of human, plant and animal fossils in Bahamas blue hole

December 18th, 2007 - 2:35 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 18 (ANI): Scientists have discovered human bones in a deep underwater cave in the Bahamas Islands, which might be of the first known human being in the region, among a treasure trove of other plant and animal fossils.

Known as Sawmill Sink, this underwater cave contains well-preserved fossils, including the remains of an ancient terrestrial crocodile, tortoises and other marine creatures previously unknown to exist in the West Indies.

According to a report by National Geographic News, the unique blue hole also holds the ancient remains of globally or locally extinct species of lizards, snakes, bats, birds, and plants.

A blue hole is a sinkhole in which deep saltwater layers are covered by surface fresh water.

The Sawmill Sink blue hole lies in a rocky pine forest in the interior of Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas. It was once a dry cave that filled with water as ancient sea levels rose. Today, the sinkhole measures 55 feet (17 meters) across and 110 feet (33.5 meters) deep.

The environment in a blue hole is ideal for preservation, because the salty, oxygen-free waters keep bacteria and fungi from decomposing organic remains. Artifacts are also often covered with layers of protective sediment.

“On almost every dive we find more fossils,” said Nancy Albury, project coordinator and scientist with the National Museum of the Bahamas, the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation. “Having so many species coming out of one particular site shows that there was a lot more going on than we formerly thought in the Bahamas,” she added.

But, of everything the sink has yielded so far, plant fossils could turn out to be the most intriguing finds.

By examining leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds alongside the animal remains preserved with them, scientists can form a much more complete picture of the ancient environment.

For example, the presence of bracken ferns suggests the island once boasted a regenerative, fire-swept landscape of open grasslands.

Fossils of burrowing owls and meadow larks, which live in such areas, add further convincing evidence.

“There are some really incredible plants coming out,” the journal quoted Albury as saying. “Some of them still have chlorophyll pigment. When they are brought to the surface, they are still green,” she added.

“I’ve been working in the Bahamas for 25 years and [been] diving in many blue holes,” said Thomas Iliffe, an underwater cave expert at Texas A&M University at Galveston. “Sawmill Sink is a unique site. I’ve never seen such an abundance or preservation of fossils anywhere else in the Bahamas, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter,” he added.

According to Stephanie Schwabe, director of the nonprofit Rob Palmer Blue Holes Foundation based in Charleston, South Carolina, other blue holes like the Sawmill Sink could yield more paleontological and archaeological riches.

“We have thousands of different cave systems all over the Bahamas, and the majority of them haven’t even been explored yet, she said. (ANI)

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