Digging deep, Inglis '06 goes to Romania to study fossils
By John M. Mitchell
Published in The Dartmouth - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Gabrielle Inglis '06 eschewed lazy afternoons on the Green this summer in favor of days exploring Transylvanian caves.

Inglis was one of seven American college students among a slew of Romanian cave enthusiasts who spent four weeks recovering ancient bear fossils from the Cioclovina caves in central Romania.

The fossils, guessed to be around 12,000 years old, represent the remains of the skeletons plundered by amateur archaeologists looking for a quick buck. The skulls are a popular item on eBay.com, routinely picked up by collectors for a few thousand dollars apiece. Distributors usually leave the remainder of the skeletons behind because they don't fetch a profit.

Inglis called her month-long adventure to such an important archaeological site an "overwhelming experience." Her summer searching for remnants of the past in "passages so small that you could barely breathe" was more than worth missing the Sophomore Summer experience, she said.

Romania boasts over 10,000 caves, which have yielded bear fossils as old as 75,000 year old and the oldest human fossils ever found in Europe, estimated to be 38,000 years old.

On this summer's expedition the group found neither human remains nor full cave bear skeletons, but they did find and preserve a great number of skeletal fragments of what had been plundered and sold online to collectors across the globe. The work of the group will be carried back to the capital of Romania to aid in the research on cave bears currently being done there.

Inglis found the program, which is coordinated by Dan Dimancescu '64, on a flyer posted on the Dartmouth Outing Club's Outdoor Trips bulletin board.

She recognizes she may have missed out on some class bonding experiences over Sophomore Summer, but said the opportunity to immerse herself in an activity she loves was too good to pass up.

In addition to Dartmouth, the program's American participants also hailed from Bowdoin College, Colorado State University, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Reed College, Tufts University, the University of Hawaii and the University of Oregon.

While many of the students had experience with archaeological explorations, looking for bear fossil remains in Romanian caves still seemed to be a bit of an obstacle. Luckily, Transylvania's 10,000 caves have spawned a popular pastime.

Spelunking is widely enjoyed, and the Romanians who helped with the expedition were more than willing to lend their expertise.

Inglis found the caving intimidating at first, but noted that the technical knowledge her Romanian counterparts provided made the experience less stressful, and allowed her to focus less on staying alive, and more on little pieces of what had long since died.