Homestead Cave is not much to look at, a modest opening in a knoll at the north end of Utah’s Lakeside Mountains. But it has yielded a paleontological jackpot for scientists reconstructing ancient Great Basin environments thanks to owls that spit up small-animal prey in the cave for thousands of years.
The piles of regurgitated pellets drew Dave Madsen in the early 1990s to this lonely spot on the Utah Test and Training Range west of the Great Salt Lake. Then with the Utah Geological Survey, Madsen and colleagues Don Grayson and Jack Broughton hoped the bones, known as “death assemblages,” would provide a record of the plants and animals that inhabited the surrounding area over the years.
What they found was scientific pay dirt that continues to yield dividends. Three years of excavation recovered undisturbed bones layered down at least 2 meters, representing what’s been on the owls’ menu for the past 13,000 years.