Thieves Steal Fossils from Devon Cave

Fossils from the Joint Mitnor Cave Stolen

Sad news to report today.  It has come to our attention that thieves have ransacked the fossil deposits preserved at Joint Mitnor Cave located near the town of Buckfastleigh in Devon.  Items stolen include a beautifully preserved prehistoric elephant’s tooth that is believed to be around 100,000 years old.  Devon and Cornwall Police are currently investigating the theft, with the high prices that fossil teeth and bones can fetch on the black market, such thefts are becoming all too common.

The Joint Mitnor Cave, named after the people who discovered it, is located in a limestone quarry (Higher Klin Quarry), one of a sequence of caves that once formed a much larger structure.  The caves were originally formed as water, part of the River Dart system, percolated down and slowly eroded away the Devonian limestone rocks to form caverns.  The door guarding the cave was smashed and the thieves removed a number of fossil specimens.  The cave is one of a number of such sites managed by the William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust, at just over fifty metres long it is not that big, but during the last interglacial period, part of the roof of the cave collapsed creating a trap in which unwary animals could fall into.  The fossilised bones of Hippos, Hyenas, Elephants and Bison have been found.  Most of the fossils had been removed and taken to the Natural History Museum (London) back in the 1960’s but a number of specimens had remained in situ so that visitors could see the fossils and learn how such fossils in caves form.

The Elephant Tooth Fossil Photographed in the Cave

An elephant tooth lies adjacent to some crushed bison bones.

An elephant tooth lies adjacent to some crushed bison bones.

Picture Credit: William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust

The cave contained the richest deposits of mammalian remains found in a cave in Britain.  The fossils date to the Ipswichian stage of the Pleistocene Epoch.  Alan Finch, secretary of the William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust commented that the stolen elephant tooth (straight-tusked elephant) was “presumably regarded as a trophy.”

The secretary added:

“Its loss is a serious blow to those who have been custodians of the site for over fifty years and to the general scientific community.”

The cave has been classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and although it is not possible to place a value on the fossils, given the high demand for prices these days, the tooth alone could sell for hundreds of pounds.  The theft is believed to have taken place sometime between the 3rd of September and September 12th.  The fossils could find their way onto an on line auction site, or perhaps they were stolen to order and will end up in the hands of a private collector.

Commenting on the robbery a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The caves have been open for more than fifty years and have acted as an educational resource centre as well as a location for scientific demonstrations.  It is such a shame that this has happened.”

The Trust is supported by lottery funding and grants from the Nature Conservancy.

If anyone has information concerning the whereabouts of the stolen fossils or information about the theft, Devon and Cornwall Police can be contacted here: Contact Devon and Cornwall Police

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