Where’s Your Snap-Link?

By Krystle Buschner, Science & Technology Interpretation Specialist

Photo courtesy of Value Added Promotions

I love carabiners. I use them all the time to fasten my lunch box to my purse, my water bottle to my backpack and even my car keys to my jeans. These handy clips come in all different shapes (the horse is my favorite!), sizes and colors, and can be used for almost anything.

Black Diamond Quicksilver Screwgate Carabiner; Photo courtesy of Extreme Gear

The carabiners that I use are essentially key rings; they do not lock and are not to be used for climbing. The expert cavers, on the other hand, need reliable carabiners to perform advanced vertical caving. Of course, this is only one small piece of equipment that is used when exploring caves.

So you may be asking, what do carabiners and this cave “talk” have to do with Indiana?  Well, for starters, southern Indiana is covered with caves because that is where the limestone is. Put simply, slightly acidic water dissolves limestone and forms Indiana’s solution caves (the one and ONLY trivia answer I will give away from our Underground Jeopardy cave activity — to win a key ring carabiner of course!).

Vertical Caving; Photo courtesy of You Cave

Now, what does all of this have to do with the Indiana State Museum? Despite the limestone on the museum’s facade, annual excavations at Megenity Cave, and the museum’s purpose to represent all things Indiana, we will have an event titled What’s Wild About Indiana Caves? this Saturday, Aug. 27 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Enjoy seeing live bats up close, asking your burning caving questions to cave experts, excavating dire wolves and peccaries in our mock cave, and posing in caving equipment in front of a green screen to make your friends and family believe you’ve gone on a caving adventure. Personally, I will be hanging out by the live bats as I’ve recently learned that, in the wild, they eat over 1,000 insects in an hour, including those pesky mosquitoes. Who could ask for anything better than that?

I Wanna Check You for Ticks

That’s Brad Paisley … but applies to Peccary Digs, too … but more about the creatures of the day in a second. Day four of a 17 day dig = my second day. Started all wrong;  a knock-knock had me flying out of bed in my jammies, hair unruly, to find Ron Richards, museum paleontologist at my door … our alarm hadn’t gone off! OMG! Leap into clothing and out the door … cavers don’t need makeup or hair fussing. *whew* Luckily its a 40-minute drive to the cave, which is plenty of time to drink coffee and wake up.

Many creatures today … spiders (again) and butterflies and ticks. But the real find of the day was a copperhead snake! Yes, they are venomous. Neal reached down for something next to his chair and the snake moved; thankfully it didn’t strike, but chose to slither away instead.   

The other interesting find amidst over a hundred buckets full of cave dirt was a shark tooth, probably over three hundred million years old, from a geological period of time when Indiana was covered by water. The buckets are brought out of the cave and carried to the screeners, who carefully wash off excess dirt and rock, picking through for anything unusual, which they set aside in special containers.  The rest is put into plastic bags, brought back to the museum, and carefully studied under microscopes.

It was a long day of hauling heavy buckets, shooting dozens and dozens of photos and video, and sweating. But what an honor to be part of something as cool and important as this. We are literally picking through history! More tomorrow!

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‘Diggin’ Up Bones’ and other Famous Songs

Cave digging is exhausting. That’s just one of the things I learned today, on my first paleontological dig with museum staffers and other volunteers. We’re in southern Indiana, clearing out a cave, on an expedition that has been repeated nearly every summer for 23 years.  Hauling 60 to 70 giant buckets full of rocks and mud uphill for a few hours is a workout! And my shower tonight ranks up there with the best showers of all time; dirt and sweat and mud had permeated every crevice of my body! When you can actually smell your own self, you KNOW you need a shower! And luckily the tick I found had not yet fully attached itself … 

Some other things I learned: helmets are a very important piece of caving equipment. As I hauled those buckets to the mouth of the cave, I probably hit my head on solid rock approximatedly 24 times. And its a good thing I’m not as terrified of spiders as my sister and my daughter, because I was definitely sharing quarters with at least a dozen big juicy ones (as long as they stayed on their side of the wall, I was okay with them being there).

Balance: this is a surprisingly important skill when you’re climbing uneven hills and when you’re teetering on rock, trying to heave a heavy bucket onto a metal roller system to get it out of the cave. I was not keen on slipping and falling face first into the mud! 

So about the music … do you ever get some song stuck in your head? Well, when you’re in a group of people, its really not nice to push that song upon the others, because then THEY get it stuck in THEIR head! First it was the old country song “Diggin’ Up Bones,” then it suddenly became  Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” since my husband and I are the resident “paparazzi” on this dig. Speaking of which … here are some photos …

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