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A Journey to a New Land

Mountain Goat
Post secondary Level Resources

Port Eliza Cave

Port Eliza Cave is a raised sea cave located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The plant and animal remains preserved in the cave have provided scientists with a unique window into the climate and environment of this coastal region between about 18,000 and 16,000 years ago.

The cave was formed at a time when relative sea levels were higher than present, and wave action eroded the cliff face and created the cave. When sea levels dropped, the cave became a dry inland shelter for animals living in the area. Sometime after 16,000 years ago, glacial ice covered the mouth of the cave, and fine-grained glacial sediments were deposited in the cave by melt water. These sediments buried and protected the animal and plant remains located on the cave floor.

The animal remains found in the cave include mountain goats, marmots and voles. The remains of several species of birds and fish were also present. Based on the known habitats of these animals, and on the plant remains found in the cave, scientists have been able to reconstruct the ancient environment on the west coast of Vancouver Island between about 18,000 – 16,000 years ago. They discovered that although the climate was somewhat cooler than present, the region was not a cold barren tundra such as one might expect in a periglacial region. Rather, it was likely a cool parkland environment containing a mix of forest and open areas and was inhabited by a variety of animals, birds and fish.

Although Port Eliza Cave is not an archaeological site (no cultural remains have been found there), it is important because it provides evidence that this coastal region was habitable up until at least 16,000 years ago, and capable of supporting a human population.

Further Reading:

Ward, B. C., M. Wilson, D. W. Nagorson, D. E. Nelson, J. C. Driver and R. J. Wigen
2003 Port Eliza Cave: North American West Coast interstadial environment and implications for human migrations. Quaternary Science Reviews 22:1383 - 1388.

Port Eliza Cave