The Dominican Republic can boast some very interesting finds in some of its freshwater caves that have been mostly unexplored until now.
Research divers recently uncovered an unexpectedly large variety of fossil remains of extinct species of animals in the underground springs, including crocodiles. The discoveries may turn a new page in paleontology, at least in the Caribbean.
SOUNDBITE: Alfred Rosenberger, Anthropologist, Brooklyn College: "One of the wonderful things we’ve learned here in the past couple of years, is that we can do really solid collecting of paleontological remains in underwater caverns. This is something entirely new. . It really hasn’t been done before systematically and I think it might be a brand new way – certainly for Hispaniola, the island, of Hispaniola, this is the way to do it."
One of the crocodile skeletons is nearly complete, buried in silt except for the end of its snout.
The researchers are excited about this find, because crocodiles have never been reported on this part of the island.
The croc findings were so unexpected and recent, the scientists are still in the midst of research to determine age and species.
Lead scientist and anthropologist Alfred Rosenberger and his team set out to search for monkey remains in the Dominican Republic caves. They found many. And many more remains of different animals, including bats, sloths, birds, snakes, lizards and fish.
One of the cave sites, discovered by locals, has a narrow vertical entrance under a fig tree in the country’s eastern province of La Altagracia.
After about a 26 foot descent, there is a large cave room, and in the surrounding water of this cave, extending at least 28-hundred feet, the crocodile fossils were found in excellent condition.
SOUNDBITE: Alfred Rosenberger, Anthropologist, Brooklyn College: "One of the beautiful things about finding this material in underground caves is that the preservation is extraordinary. It is very rare when doing normal dirt paleontology , so to speak, to be able to find complete bones that are unbroken."
Other caves have more inviting entrances, but because of their remoteness, and the fact they are filled with water, they had remained largely unexplored, until now. And the animal remains have been well preserved in the cold water for millenia.
Funding for the expedition of Rosenberger, the Museo del Hombre Dominicano and collaborators from the Dominican Republic Speleological Society, was provided by a National Geographic /Waitt Foundation grant, with previous support from the Leakey Foundation.