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Ainsworth cave revealed fossils

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The Cody Caves (naturally occurring) and hot springs caves (mostly or entirely human-created) aren’t the only caves in and around Ainsworth.

Several months ago, Angela Ortega dropped off a newspaper clipping (seen below) that she correctly thought I would find interesting. It’s from the Calgary Herald of June 5, 1912 and reports the discovery of prehistoric fossilized bones in a cave at the Silver Hoard mine.

The Vancouver Sun ran the same story that day with the headline “Cavities lined with silver discovered in Ainsworth mine.”

The Silver Hoard is one of a group of claims on Cedar Creek at an elevation of 1,300 meters, about 11 km from Ainsworth by road. One claim in the group was being worked by 1889. Sporadic operation continued until 1896. The Silver Hoard Mining Co. of Spokane, which took over in 1911, was obviously delighted the cave would save them time and money tunneling — but the formations within and the fossils were regarded as mere curiosities.

A follow-up story in the Sun three days later revealed the bones in question might have only been one bone.

The story appeared in many newspapers around North America over the next few months. In the Nelson Daily News of Oct. 21, 1912, A.D. Wheeler sang the praises of the Cody Caves (then better known as the Victoria Cave) and added: “Caves of a similar nature, but on a smaller scale, are encountered in the Silver Hoard, Krao, and Gallagher mines, that on the Silver Hoard coming in the shape of a perpendicular opening, draining the mine and furnishing a practical working shaft to great depth.”

Many more news stories were published in the next few years about the Silver Hoard, but none mentioned the cave specifically, nor did they explain what happened to the jawbone, nor if additional fossils were discovered. Too bad.

Canadian Mining Journal, Dec. 15, 1912

The property was leased to others beginning in 1917, and it continued to be worked until 1925 or so. Consolidated Mining and Smelting Ltd. held it from 1925-49, but didn’t do any work. It changed hands three times by 1951 and saw some further development. It was last explored by Silver Hoard Vines Ltd. in 1952.

A total of 3,070 tonnes of ore was mined in the Silver Hoard’s life, from which silver, gold, lead, and zinc were recovered.

Other fossils were also found at Ainsworth. According to a report by S.J. Schofield in 1919 on the Skyline property:

Schofield was estimating the age of the fossils by comparing them to known species from the Rockies. He identified several marine groups from the Ainsworth site — crinoids (distant relatives of starfish that grow rooted to the seafloor), coral and “small light-coloured bodies” that he guessed might be Fusulina plankton — but the remains were too scrappy to nail down a precise age.

He dated the Skyline property to anywhere in a range of over 200 million years, between the Lower Carboniferous period (before surface insects or spiders) and the Jurassic period (in the age of dinosaurs), with an Upper Carboniferous date of about 300 million years ago appearing the most likely. Modern geological surveys do place rock formations of about that age in the area.

Updated on Dec. 11, 2018, to interpret Schofield’s quote and Dec. 10, 2020 to add the diagram.

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