(National Library of Australia)
Reports of the discovery of Mammoth Cave date back to as early as 1895. Mammoth Cave was located by Surveyor Mr Marmaduke Terry in September 1900, and explored by Tim Connelly and Ned Dawson, with Ned being the first to go through the cave and discover the “back door”. Tim conducted unofficial tours through the cave until 1904 when it was officially opened as a tourist cave. He also named the cave “The Dawn of Creation” perhaps due to the expanse of light reflecting off the stream in winter or maybe because of the abundance of fossils found in the cave.
In 1904 Edgar Robinson; superintendent of the caves and cave guide Tim Connelly were constructing a walkway roughly below the largest solution pipe some 50 metres into the cave (i.e. near the top platform). One of these gentlemen unearthed some rather odd bones. In the same year Connelly notified his good friend Colonel Le Souef of the find. At the time Le Souef had considerable standing within the scientific community as he had been responsible for establishing the Perth Zoological gardens in the 1890’s.
Le Souef in turn notified Mr Bernard Woodward – Director of the W.A. Museum. At this time no one was actively working in Palaeontology and very little work was being done in Archaeology. Bernard Woodward contacted his cousin Mr H.P. Woodward who was working in the Mines Dept., with the fledgling Geological Survey of W.A. It turned out that H.P. Woodward had on staff a young graduate, just out of university and freshly arrived from England, (the Midlands he believed) by the name of Ludwig Glauert.
Glauert was seconded from the Mines Dept. to the Museum with the brief of Palaeontological Research in the entire South-West. During the years of 1909-1915 two sites in Mammoth Cave; the “Le Souef” and the “Glauert” sites were excavated by the W.A. Museum. Many bones of extinct animals including megafauna bones were found; the fossil material was removed and is now stored in the W.A. Museum.
Glauert first completed the “Le Souef” dig – at the base of the old solution pipe. It was from this site that a Giant Echidna (Zaglossus hacketti), a Short-faced Kangaroo (Simosthenurus occidentalis) and a Wombat (Vombatus hacketti) were found. The almost complete wombat skeleton was found in the solution pipe, suggesting it perished in the original pipe which now lies on top of the rockpile. Glauert then moved to the north wall to what is known as the “Glauert” dig.
The material in which the bones were embedded comprised two groups; the lower series consisted of reddish coarse sand containing fragments of wood and gastropod shells in addition to the bones, with occasional bands of black loamy soil of 25mm thickness. Layers of stalagmite (flowstone) often enclosed the bones, wood fragments and bearing casts of eucalyptus leaves were not uncommon. One of these layers was completely covering the sediments, thus protecting the animal remains. The upper layer was a sandy bed which was yellowish in colour; the bones it contained were much fresher in appearance compared with the lower sediments.
Glauert believed that the bone bearing deposit was a remnant of a mass of bone breccia which at one time partly filled the large chamber. This remnant was protected by a coating of flowstone for many years until the protection was undermined by the stream flowing through the cave and much of the material with its priceless store of animal remains was washed away and lost to science.
Excavations produced a sizeable fossil collection, some 10,000 specimens; his total excavation amounted to 30 cubic metres of soil. Unfortunately the stratigraphical relationship was poorly documented, probably due to inadequate resources and time constraints, making any assessment of relative ages of the material extremely hard.
The assemblage contains 34 vertebrate species, most of which are small and typical of the south-west today. Several types of large extinct animals are represented i.e. Megafauna. These include the Giant Echidna (Zaglossus hacketti), Wombat (Vombatus hacketti), Wallaby (Wallabia kitcheneri), the giant extinct diprotodontid (Zygomaturus trilobus), extinct browsing kangaroos (Simosthenurus occidentalis and Simosthenurus brownei) and the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex). Other groups of animals represented are those which still occur in Eastern Australia or Tasmania: the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). The south-west corner seems to have changed very little even though the giant marsupial fauna has disappeared.
|Ludwig Glauert in the Western Australian Museum with remains of fossil marsupials from Mammoth Cave,
Photograph by EL Mitchell first published in the Western Mail 19 June 1914
National Library of Australia