Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 12:45 UK

Cavers recover ancient bear bones

Bear bones (Pic: Grampian Speleological Group)
A selection of the bear bones recovered by cave divers

An almost complete skeleton of a bear that may have died 11,000 years ago has been recovered from a cave in the Scottish Highlands.

The first pieces of bone were found in 1995 by cavers exploring a network of caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland.

But it was only recently that caving club, Grampian Speleological Group, reached some of the final fragments.

The National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh will try to establish if it was a brown or polar bear.

The BBC Scotland News website reported in March of fresh studies being carried out on the skull of a bear found in the same caves system in 1927.

We plan to take this exciting discovery a step further by radiocarbon dating them to discover when the bear died
Dr Andrew Kitchener
National Museums of Scotland

Genetics experts at Trinity College in Dublin have been running tests on its DNA.

Cave divers spent 12 years wriggling through narrow spaces and moving soil to unblock entrances in their effort to recover all that they could of the more recent discovery.

The Edinburgh-based club's Ivan Young said: "It's been a long period of hard work and intense effort, but we are pleased to report that we have been successful in removing the bear bones from the chamber called Uamh an Claonaite.

He added: "We have recovered all visible bone material and several bones partially covered in fine sediment and rock breakdown from the roof of the passage."

'Relatively fragile'

The remains found include the skull, the second lower mandible, fragments of upper mandible, vertebrae, ribs, most of the long bones, the main elements making up the pelvis, and several elements from the feet."

Mr Young said: "All in all, probably around 70 to 80% of the animal remains."

Dr Andrew Kitchener said: "The bones are now at our conservation centre at National Museums collection centre, Edinburgh, where our first priority is to preserve and stabilise them, as they are relatively fragile.

"After that we plan to take this exciting discovery a step further by radiocarbon dating them to discover when the bear died.

"We also need to decide if they belonged to a polar bear or a brown bear, which wasn't possible from the lower mandible we already have."


SEE ALSO
New tests on rare polar bear find
07 Mar 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Ancient polar bear jawbone found
10 Dec 07 |  Science/Nature

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