We demonstrate the utility of a multi-pronged approach to geomorphological studies. We show how the synthesis of results from 3-D imaging, varied geotechnical methods, and dating, reveals hitherto unknown features of a cave and of its sediment infill, and elucidates its geomorphological history. The Unicorn Cave (Einhornhöhle, southern Harz Mountains, Germany), long famous for its cave bear, lion, and mammoth fossils, is a dry vadose trunk cave high above base level, characterized by large rooms connected by shallow passages, and filled with sediments up to 40 m thick. The sediment is an archive for natural and anthropogenic environmental change: the succession of river gravels, breccia, and silts and sands provides a paleo-geomorphic and climatic archive; while human artefacts from the Paleolithic period provide information about early settlement phases. Here we derive a detailed description of the Unicorn Cave and its sediment infill by utilising several sources: (i) We synthesise data from the literature into a comprehensive picture of the sediment infill; (ii) We present new geophysical measurements of the sediments in the large room Leibnizhalle, and discuss these new measurements in view of our older findings; (iii) We map the larger chambers with the photogrammetric structure-from-motion method to build three-dimensional models; (iv) We present new age estimates from speleothem samples in the cave and discuss them with other, published, age estimates. Finally we use our newly collected evidence to reconstruct the evolution of the entire Unicorn Cave (including the newly-revealed, not-yet-accessible passages and their pristine sediment infill, as yet undisturbed by fossil hunters). The main period of speleogenesis ended with base-level incision in the mid-Pleistocene; the deposition of basal river gravels, probably in the late Cromerian, was followed by a sequence of clays and loams, capped by speleothem at ~MIS 3; the dates suggest at least two bone beds (MIS 3, and MIS 5e), along with bone material older than MIS 7.

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Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

Kaufmann, G. (Georg), Romanov, D. (Douchko), Nielbock, R. (Ralf), & Lundberg, J. (2020). The sediment record of the Unicorn Cave, southern Harz Mountains, Germany. Geomorphology, 367. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2020.107295