“A “paleoburrow” is a tunnel made by a prehistoric animal, likely an armadillo or an extinct, giant ground sloth, depending on the size of the hole. These extinct sloths were huge, some the size of a modern-day elephant. They dug very large tunnels.
Almost 2,000 paleoburrows have been found across South America, mostly in the Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, which border Uruguay and Argentina.
Scientists believe they could be 12,000 years old, or even much much older. The discovery is opening up a whole new branch of paleontology. But researchers face plenty of challenges — including a lack of funding and modern development — while trying to study and preserve the paleoburrows. They’re in a race against time to discover and protect them before it’s too late.
The trail to Morro Grande Paleoburrow winds up a valley, passing back and forth over a river that meanders downstream.
Through lush, tropical vegetation, a massive hole on the hillside comes into view.
The main gallery of the paleoburrow outside is huge. The ceiling is maybe two or three stories high with four tunnels leading off in different directions.
This is one of the largest and most well-known paleoburrows. Most don’t have such a complex system.
For many years, locals in southern Brazil said these tunnels were dug by the Xokleng Indigenous peoples in order to hide out when under attack by colonizing Europeans.
But about a decade ago, researchers confirmed it was a paleoburrow.
You can tell by the claw marks — the defining feature of many paleoburrows found in the region. Scientists say they are the mark of the giant ground sloth.
In this tunnel, deep parallel gashes scrape across the ceiling and sides of the cave. It’s awe-inspiring. But alongside the claw marks, initials, names and words have been carved into the sandstone walls, left there by human visitors.
“It’s been really degraded since the first time I came here,” said guide Marcelo Crepaldi. “When I was first here in the 1990s with a local school trip, there were no marks or names. Now, there are even walls collapsing from being messed with.”
The Paleoburrows Project, an initiative composed of researchers from several universities, has waged a campaign to raise awareness about the existence of paleoburrows and fight misinformation.”
View the whole story here: https://www.pri.org/stories/2021-04-13/get-glimpse-southern-brazils-paleoburrows-dug-prehistoric-animals