Shelter Cave

Shelter Cave

"Shelter Cave" is an archaeological and paleontological site located in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.

General Description

The site is a rock shelter well up on the western side of Bishop's Cap, an outlier of the Organ Mountains. It lies about 450 ft below the summit according to Brattstrom (1964); this would make its elevation about 1500 m. It was originally excavated by the Los Angeles County Museum (LACM) ca. 1929 (LACMVP site number 1010). Specimens collected from talus, fill, or other areas are labeled 1010 Dump or 1010D. Specimens collected by Conkling are labeled C 1010. The cave was excavated in 5-foot sections.

Brattstrom (1964) had access to the original field notes. Two profiles were given. One in Sec. S-5-7, from bottom to top: rock bottom of cave, 5" angular fragments, 8" smooth concretionary limestone fragments mixed with brown dust, 6" of ash mixed with angular fragments, 10" of layered gray (volcanic?) ash grading into a layer of brown, 4" of hard burned guano, 4" of unconsolidated bat guano, top. Most bones were found in brown and gray ash. Another section 53" thick, from bottom up: floor of cave, 17" of broken concretionary limestone fragments, 16" of brown ash, 12" of gray layered ash grading into the brown below it, 8" of bat guano, top.

Brattstrom (1964:95) gives several quotes from the original field notes: "Sloth in place, S-5-4 in upper guano layer and in direct association with bits of knots of vegetative material. S-6-5, sloth bone in upper yellow layer. Mummified rat and snake on top of rocks in bat guano. S-5-6, S-5-5, horse jaws in brown ash. S-5-6, sloth skull fragment in gray ash below overhanging rock. In same section above rock was an Indian grindstone. S-4-7, beads and sandal found beneath guano layer and also below overhanging rock. S-4-9, badger and deer skulls in gray ash."


Rancholabrean (late Pleistocene) and Holocene. One date on sloth dung (Van Devender and Spaulding 1979) of 11,330 ± 370 BP (Before Present). Material has continued to accumulate up to the present. Thompson et al. (1980) list three dates for sloth dung, including that above; the others are 12,330 ± 190 and 12,430 ± 250. They also list dates on Desert Tortoise ("Gopherus agassizii") scutes and bone (11,280 to 12,520) and dates for middens of packrats in the cave (11,850 to 31,250).


Fosberg (1936) lists plants identified from Shelter Cave deposits, but without provenance data; they likely are Holocene. He also mentions that there are coprolites of either sloth or horse. Thompson et al. (1980) point out that vegetation from pre-full-glacial middens from the shelter are more mesic than the terminal Pleistocene ones that lack oak, and pinyon pine is rare).

This is the type locality of "Stockoceros conklingi" (Conkling's Pronghorn).

The faunal list includes one or more citations for each taxon. UTEP indicates specimens are deposited in the Resource Collections of the Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.


* "Scaphiopus" cf. "couchii" Brattstrom 1964
* "Rana" cf. "pipiens" Brattstrom 1964

* "Gopherus agassizii" Brattstrom 1961, 1964; Van Devender et al. 1976; UTEP
* "Eumeces obsoletus" Brattstrom 1964
* "Phrynosoma cornutum" Brattstrom 1964
* "Crotaphytus collaris" Brattstrom 1964
* "Coluber constrictor" Brattstrom 1964
* "Masticophis flagellum" Brattstrom 1964
* "Lampropeltis getula" Brattstrom 1964
* "Pituophis melanoleucus" Brattstrom 1964
* "Elaphe subocularis" Brattstrom 1964
* "Trimorphodon biscutatus" UTEP
* "Crotalus atrox" Brattstrom 1964

* "Anser" ? "albifrons" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Anas acuta" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Anas crecca" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Cathartes aura" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Breagyps clarki" Howard 1971 (Specimen reported as "Gymnogyps californianus" by Howard and Miller 1933)
* "Accipiter striatus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Buteo jamaicensis" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Buteo swainsoni" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Buteo" ? "albonotatus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Buteogallus fragilis" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Aquila chrysaetos" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Polyborus plancus prelutosus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Falco peregrinus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Falco sparverius" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Centrocercus urophasianus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Meleagris crassipes" Rea 1980
* "Callipepla squamata" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Lophortyx" sp. Howard and Miller 1933
* "Oreortyx pictus" Harris 1985; Howard and Miller 1933
* "Porzana carolina" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Fulica americana" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Larus" sp. Howard and Miller 1933
* "Zenaida macroura" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Geococcyx californianus conklingi" Harris and Crews 1983; Howard and Miller 1933
* "Geococcyx californianus californianus" Harris 1985; Howard and Miller 1933
* "Tyto alba" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Otus asio" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Bubo virginianus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Athene cunicularia" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Aegolius funereus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Aegolius acadicus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Aeronautes saxatalis" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Colaptes auratus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Melanerpes formicivorus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Sayornis saya" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Eremophila alpestris" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Pica pica" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Corvus corax" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Catherpes mexicanus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Salpinctes obsoletus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Turdus migratorius" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Sialia" sp. Howard and Miller 1933
* "Toxostoma" sp. Howard and Miller 1933
* "Oreoscoptes montanus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Lanius ludovicianus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Molothrus ater" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Pyelorhamphus molothroides" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Carpodacus mexicanus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Pipilo erythrophthalmus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Pipilo fuscus" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Calamospiza melanocorys" Howard and Miller 1933
* "Amphispiza bilineata" — very recently entombed according to Howard and Miller 1933.

* "Notiosorex crawfordi" Harris 1985
* "Nothrotheriops shastensis" Harris 1985
* "Lepus californicus" UTEP
* ? Geomyidae Harris 1985
* "Neotoma cinerea" Harris 1985; UTEP
* "Microtus" cf. "montanus" Smartt 1977; UTEP
* "Canis latrans" Harris 1985
* "Urocyon/Vulpes" Harris 1985
* "Taxidea taxus" Harris 1985
* "Spilogale" sp. Harris 1985 as "] Spilogale putorius] "
* "Mephitis mephitis" Harris 1985
* "Lynx rufus" Harris 1985
* "Equus" sp. (large) Harris 1985
* "Equus" sp. (small) Harris 1985; UTEP
* "Camelops" sp. Stock 1932a
* "Odocoileus" sp. Harris 1985
* "Stockoceros conklingi" Stock 1930
* "Capromeryx" sp. Harris 1985
* "Ovis canadensis" Harris 1985


*Brattstrom, B. H. 1964. Amphibians and reptiles from cave deposits in south-central New Mexico. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 63:93-103.
*Fosberg, F. R. 1936. Plant remains in Shelter Cave, New Mexico. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 35:154-155.
*Harris, A. H. 1977. Wisconsin age environments in the northern Chihuahuan Desert: Evidence from the higher vertebrates. Pp. 23-52, "in" Transactions of the symposium on the biological resources of the Chihuahuan Desert region, United States and Mexico (R. H. Wauer and D. H. Riskind, eds.), Natl. Park Serv. Trans. Proceedings Series 3:1-658.
*Harris, A. H. 1985. Late Pleistocene vertebrate paleoecology of the West. University of Texas Press, Austin, 293 pp.
*Harris, A. H., and C. R. Crews. 1983. Conkling's roadrunner--a subspecies of the California roadrunner? Southwestern Naturalist 28:407-412.
*Howard, H. 1971. Quaternary avian remains from Dark Canyon Cave, New Mexico. Condor, 73:237-240.
*Howard, H., and A. H. Miller. 1933. Bird remains from cave deposits in New Mexico. Condor 35:15-18.
*Rea, A. M. 1980. Late Pleistocene and Holocene turkeys in the Southwest. Contributions in Science, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 330:209-224.
*Smartt, R. A. 1977. The ecology of Late Pleistocene and Recent "Microtus" from south-central and southwestern New Mexico. Southwestern Naturalist 22:1-19.
*Stock, C. 1930. Quaternary antelope remains from a second cave deposit in the Organ Mountains, New Mexico. Los Angeles Museum, Science series, Paleontology 2:1-18.
*Stock, C. 1932. A further study of the Quaternary antelopes of Shelter Cave, New Mexico. Los Angeles Museum, Science series, Paleontology 3:1-45, 3 pls.
*Thompson, R. S., T. R. Van Devender, P. S. Martin, T. Foppe, and A. Long. 1980. Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastense Hoffstetter) at Shelter Cave, New Mexico: Environment, diet, and extinction. Quaternary Research 14:360-376.

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