Visitors to an Australian underground attraction, from time to time, find themselves side-by-side with a scientific investigation.
A hunt is on for ancient fossils, animal bones and teeth deep within Wellington Caves, in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State.
Paleontologists from Flinders University, in Adelaide, are digging and sifting through silt deposited in the limestone caves, which are a popular tourist attraction and known world-wide as a rich source of megafaunal bones.
The dig, which may extend 10 metres into the silt, is helping develop a picture of surface life in the area through the centuries.
Findings from the project are being taken to Adelaide for detailed examination at Flinders University, which is highly regarded in the field of palaeontology.
No interference with tours
The work isn’t interfering with tours of Wellington Caves, which are a leading tourist attraction in the central-western area of New South Wales.
The first known source of marsupial fossils in Australia, the caves have provided specimens to collections world-wide.
Megafauna fossils discovered there are said to date back two million years and include marsupial lions and giant kangaroos, wombats and goannas.
The caves are about 353 kilometres or four hours and 40 minutes from Sydney on the Mitchell Highway – or 504 kilometres (five hours and 41 minutes) from Sydney via the Golden Highway. They are on the southern outskirts of the town of Wellington.
Wellington Caves were opened to the public in the 1870’s.
A hill of bones
The display caves are complemented by a former phosphate mine, from where megafaunal bones are visible in the mud walls.
Mining in the early 1900’s apparently revealed the ‘Bone Cave’ which shows, embedded in the walls, the bone fragments of prehistoric creatures who existed long before man.
The cave burrows into what has been described as ‘a hill of bones’ – said to be the largest deposit of its type in Australia
There are handrails in the Cathedral and Gaden caves, which are accessible to people with reasonable mobility. In the Cathedral Cave, there are 150 steps, while the Gaden Cave has 120.
Neither cave has wheelchair access.
However, there is a ramp to the former phosphate mine, which can be used by both wheelchairs and strollers.
Fossil photo courtesy www.wellington-nsw.com/Phosphate_Mine.html