Monday, May 23, 2011

Danger, Jukebox caves offer valued insights into Utah's past

Utah's Danger and Jukebox caves are remarkable archaeological sites for several reasons.Both provided shelter for ancient groups of people as far back as 12,000 years ago and have clues hidden in the strata that tell valuable stories to research teams.

Danger Cave — once known as Hands and Knees Cave because the curious had to crawl in to access it — is considered the cornerstone of archaeological research in the Great Basin.

Indian Cave or Picture Cave — contains rock artwork of hunters on horses armed with spears and bows and arrows that is fascinating and unique. Today it also has a concrete dance floor that once lent itself to parties for soldiers and their dates.

And remarkably, the two hillside caves remain intact enough to warrant further study and protection despite periodic years of abandonment during which looters and relic hunters paraded through the precious sites with abandon.

Retired state archaeologist David Madsen, along with current state archaeologist Kevin T. Jones and assistant state archaeologist Ron Rood, led groups of private citizens through the caves May 14 as part of the annual Archaeology Week activities — an event well attended by a fortunate few.

"We get such an overwhelming response every time we offer tours," Rood said, "just to go see a big hole in the ground."

"If you meet any archaeologist anywhere and tell them you've worked at Danger Cave, they will fall on their knees in awe because it's such a very famous archeaological site," Madsen said. "It's one of the most important sites in the United States. What it's taught us of antiquity is unmatched."

Danger Cave is so named because a large section of the outer rock face broke off and fell to the ground minutes after a research team had broken for lunch and cleared the area in 1941. The rocks remain today as mute evidence that ultimately, Mother Nature has say over what happens to these natural formations.

The cave itself is a good-sized opening in the rocky hillside in the Great Basin area a few miles from Wendover, big enough to explore with ease and, at the time of discovery, almost filled with cultural debris.

University of Utah field researchers under the direction of Jesse D. Jennings spent between 1949 and 1953 clearing out and studying the debris. They found an amazing array of artifacts, even perishable items like bits of basketry, leather and wood that survived only because the cave is dry.

They discovered layers of pickleweed seeds, pine nuts and salt brush, antelope hair and rock and ash from the hearths of people who probably used the caves as winter camp sites.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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