Riverbluff Cave was discovered accidentally on September 11, 2001, while the county was blasting for a new road on the outskirts of Springfield, MO. In order to protect the pristine, untouched condition of the cave, the county covered the entrance and created an air-tight locked door and passageway system to guard against intruders. The system was completed in April of 2002, and the cave went public later that month.
Riverbluff Cave is approximately 2000 feet long from main entrance to back room. The heavily decorated main room occupies the first 200 feet of this. Width varies, and there are two side passages that poke out into the nether regions of the cave (one which contains snake remains, and one which is home to the largest congregation of peccary tracks in the world).
Inside Riverbluff Cave is a plethora of findings which have been dated at approximately Pleistocene in age, the time period that spanned from 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago. Items include snake skeletons, fossilized turtle shells, numerous small rodent tracks and skeletons, peccary (a type of Ice Age pig) tracks, and numerous bear and large cat claw marks, which show that this cave was used heavily for shelter before it closed so many years ago, waiting to be opened and rediscovered by humans. The original opening is believed to be closer to the now "back" of the cave, but was covered over by mud and dirt thousands of years ago.
Riverbluff is home to many firsts for the science community. First are the peccary tracks. Before, it was believed that peccary were typically only dragged into caves as food. The massive quantity of tracks found in the west passageway proves that theory wrong--it shows that herds of the wild pig-like creatures likely used the cave for shelter.
Second are the turtle shells. Studying the size, pattern and age of the shell, researchers have discovered that these shells likely belong to a never-before found species of turtle, though at least one of the shells is believed to have been an ancient ancestor to the Missouri box turtle.
So, as you can see, Riverbluff is extremely important. But why are we able to find all these clues about our past? Because of the lack of two things within the cave: air and people. Air dries out a cave and essentially kills it--the passageway to Riverbluff is completely air-tight. And there is no evidence that before the blasting crew opened it, there was ever a human inside the cave. Humans are the #1 contaminant inside a cave--even the lint on your clothes can have a lasting effect on a cave. Untrained feet can crush bones, oil from your skin can stop a speleothem from growing where you touched it...which is why speleologists must be trained for this type of research so as to leave as little impact as possible.
The Caver's Creed: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
Pictures and information were provided by Springfield Visitors & Convention Bureau
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