PALEONTOLOGICAL DETERMINATION OF THE FOSSILISED REMAINS FROM UPPER BARAĆ CAVE
Zagreb, March 2014
Author: dr. sc. Kazimir Miculinić
SHORT OVERVIEW OF ANALYSIS RESULTS
The following families have been determined in the material: cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), cave lion (Panthera spelaea), leopard (Panthera pardus), cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta), wolf (Canis lupus), fox / Arctic fox (Vulpes vulpes/Alopex lagopus), wild cat (Felis silvestris), European pine marten (Martes martes), European badger (Meles meles), European hare / mountain hare (Lepus europaeus/lepus timidus), rhinoceros (Rhinocerotidae), horse (Equus caballus), aurochs/bison (Bos primigenius/Bison priscus), Alpine ibex/chamois (Capra ibex/Rupicapra rupicapra), red deer (Cervus elaphus), European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and micromammals (Micromammalia), birds (Aves) and frogs (Anura).
The most represented species is the extinct cave bear. As an animal that appears at Pleistocene localities much more seldom than the cave bear, the cave lion finds are very interesting because their number exceeds the numbers found at most other cave lion localities in Croatia, while the well-preservedness of the skeletal elements allows for further metric and morphological processing and insight into the appearance of these big cats that used to inhabit the area of Rakovica. The wolf remains are very interesting as they indicate that wolves used to actively use Upper Barać Cave during the Pleistocene. The number of the finds allows for better morphometric analysis, as well as for a partial reconstruction of the skeletons of these animals. The osteological and odontological differences between the fox and the Arctic fox are very small, which is why only the mandible has been with certainty defined as belonging to a fox, while the rest of elements have been determined as fox / Arctic fox. Other beasts that have been discovered are the wild cat, European badger, as well as a single bone of a young leopard.
On the basis of the small number of hare remains, it was not possible to determine whether they belonged to the European hare or perhaps to the mountain hare, which also inhabited this area during the Pleistocene.
The remains of red deer are the most numerous herbivore remains in the material, while the European roe deer, and Alpine ibex or chamois appear in a significantly smaller number of specimens. An unspecified species of rhinoceros has been determined on the basis of a single bone, as has the aurochs or bison specimen which was collected at a different location in the cave than the others – in Barać Avenue.
A smaller number of finds have been determined as birds or amphibians (frogs).
PREVIOUS RESEARCH AND PROPOSAL FOR FUTURE WORK
The history of the paleontological research of Upper Barać Cave dates back to the 19th century, which is when cave bear finds were described (Kišpatić 1885). This work also gives a brief description of the first excavations in the cave, which were performed in 1877. Poljak (1914) and Malez (1955, 1962) established the need for systematic paleontological excavations in the cave, which were later conducted (Malez 1978), together with archaeological excavations (Mihelić & Balen 2004). In spite of the large number of excavations through a long period of time, it was only in 2013 that, owing to the selection of a good location inside the cave, the exceptional value of the paleontological finds was able to be determined, together with their great potential for further research. The fossilised remains from Upper Barać Cave are very interesting from a paleontological point of view, and in addition to scientific purposes they can also be used for exhibition and educational purposes. The performed anatomical and taxonomic analysis represents the basis for all further work.
A large number of skeletal elements have been during analysis, but the majority still remains fragmented. In addition to the 6274 specimens defined in the materials, more than 30,000 fragments still remain. These fragments have been initially examined and, were possible, glued together with certain other specimens. However, it is necessary to systematically review and sort these fragments and attempt to connect them with certain other specimens. In this manner, it will be possible to obtain bones that are as complete as possible, which is important both for further paleontological processing and for educational presentations and exhibitions. In addition, a large number of non-united bones of the head have been determined, and which also need to be connected to form integrated specimens.
It is necessary to perform systematic paleontological processing with an emphasis on the morphometric analysis of the bones and teeth of all families. Morphodynamic analysis of the tooth of the cave bear (Rabeder 1983, 1999) and analysis of the metapodium (Withalm 2001) may be used to determine to which of the new families in the new and increasingly-accepted taxonomic classification of cave bears could the bears from Upper Barać Cave belong. In addition, morphometric analysis of the interesting remains of the cave lion and wolf will allow for comparisons with other European populations to be drawn.
The method of absolute dating of radioactive carbon (14C) could be used to determine the age of the finds and the locality, which would allow for a more faithful reconstruction of the events in Upper Barać Cave, as well as for a reconstruction of its paleoenvironment.
The brief excavations conducted in the cave have yielded exceptional results and demonstrated the potential of further research. Due to the brevity of the research, the small test probe was not dug up to the bedrock or sterile layer. In addition to continuing work in the probe and the possibility of its expansion, the possibility of accessing new areas that have remained inaccessible since the Pleistocene due to the sedimentation of limestone debris is also very intriguing. Although it is likely that very few people had accessed the area where the probe is located, surface findings, mostly between the limestone debris, show new fractures, i.e. they have been fragmented by the passage of people. Entering new spaces and digging up the sediment would allow for intact surface findings that date back to the Pleistocene.
The fossilised materials covered in this report already allow for the opportunity for creating a better presentation of the Upper Barać Caves to tourists. If work on the materials were to be continued, and if further excavations were performed and the materials were appropriately presented, Barać Caves Public Institution could enrich their offer with paleontological finds and thus attract more visitors off season.