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The main shafts – since enlarged by erosion – were originally more than six feet tall and three to five feet wide; an estimated 4,000 metric tons of dirt and rock were dug out of the hillside to create the burrow.

“This wasn’t made by one or two individuals,” says Adamy.

Unable to identify any natural geological explanation for the cave’s existence, he eventually concluded that it was a “paleoburrow,” dug, he believes, by an extinct species of giant ground sloth.

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Surveying a 45-mile stretch of highway construction near the city of Porto Alegre, for example, Frank and his students identified paleoburrows in more than 70 percent of road cuts.

Although many are completely filled with sediment, they remain readily apparent, standing out like dark, round knots in a dirt bank.

After asking around, he eventually found his way to a gaping hole on a wooded slope a few miles north of the Bolivian border.

Unable to contact the landowner, Adamy couldn’t study the cave in detail during that first encounter.

But a preliminary inspection revealed it wasn’t the work of any natural geological process.

He’d been in other caves nearby, formed by water within the same geology underlying this particular hillside.Heinrich Frank, a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, was zipping down the highway on a Friday afternoon when he passed a construction site in the town of Novo Hamburgo.There, in a bank where excavators had eaten away half of a hill, he saw a peculiar hole.“In these burrows, sometimes you get the feeling that there’s some creature waiting around the next curve – that’s how much it feels like a prehistoric animal den,” he says.It wasn’t until 2015 that Amilcar Adamy of the CPRM had an opportunity to return to that strange cave in Rondonia.“I’ve [also] seen dozens of caves that have inorganic origins, and in these cases, it’s very clear that digging animals had no role in their creation.” In his home state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the far south of Brazil, Frank has documented at least 1,500 paleoburrows so far.

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