The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of the NHL \ Nashville Predators

Approximately 9,500 years ago (7,500 B.C), a Smilodon (Smilodon floridanus), more commonly known as a Saber-toothed Cat... entered a cave in the area of what is now downtown Nashville. It wasn't the first creature to enter this cave, we know that a long-nosed peccary as well as mastodon entered and all met their fate.

After they died, their remains lay bare on the cave floor and over the millennia the cave began to fill with boulders and other material. Eventually this material went through a dessication (drying-out) process and cracks formed.

Over 30 other species of animal entered the cave and died including toads, mud turtle's, various snakes, opossums, shrews, moles, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, dog/wolf, bobcat, bison, and deer. Native American's of the Woodland Period also entered to bury their dead (4) in prepared, rock-lined crypts.

From the period where the Smilodon entered on, the cave slowly filled with boulders and other material that washed in from above, sending some of these remains down through the cracks resulting from the desiccation, below the original level at which they laid.

At some point later, possibly in more modern times, the original entrance was possibly built over sealing the contents of the cave like a time capsule.

Fast forward to August of 1971... mechanical excavations were proceeding of what would become the foundation of the then First American National Bank (now the UBS Building) when one of the contractors removing blasted limestone bedrock for the building foundation noticed a bone in the bucket of his excavator. It ended up being a 9-inch long upper maxillary canine, the iconic fang of a saber tooth cat.

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Close-up of cave deposit from TN Archaeology article, photo by Les Leverett

Once the bones were identified, Vanderbilt University and the Southeastern Indian Antiquities Survey (SIAS) were contacted and conducted excavations during the fall of 1971. More than 1,000 bones were recovered. Sadly, geologic analysis revealed that 80-90% of the cave was destroyed by construction efforts before the remains were found so it is not known how large the actual cavern was or where exactly the original entrance was.

Since the find clearly generated a great deal of interest in the local community, the First American National Bank had the foresight to redesign the building to preserve the remaining intact portion of the site for future archaeological investigations. The foundation was vaulted over the remaining cave and the cave made accessible via a steel hatch and 20-foot ladder bolted into the substructure in the bank's parking garage.

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of TDOA  Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf

The next known entry to the cave was by Larry Johnson and members of the Nashville Grotto in 1978 hoping to find remaining passages but only found only the open space. I reached out to Mr. Johnson who was kind enough to speak with me about the trip, but sadly, no photos remain from this trip.

For the next several decades, a portion of the sabertooth cat remains resided in building lobby on display (then called the Regions Bank (Nashville branch), though the centerpiece skull is actually a replica cast from a Smilodon found in the La Brea Tar Pits site in California. The iconic fang is that was found at the site was not present. The location of the fang is unknown though it is thought that the human remains from the site reside at Vanderbilt University.

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
View of display case in the Regions Center lobby in 2008

In 1997, the National Hockey League awarded Nashville an expansion franchise and it was decided that their name and logo would be inspired by the smilodon remains that were found back in 1971. Their name became The Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Image courtesy of the Nashville Predators

In 2008, Tennessee Archaeologists including Aaron Deter-Wolf visited the site to see if the site was of future archaeological interest. They found that very little of the original cavern was intact and what remains was only approximately 5 feet below the base of the entrance ladder. This lies below the layers that the Smilodon was found so it was determined that it would be unlikely that any archaeological remains could be found, but there might be material of interest from a geological or paleontological perspective.

The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Sketch courtesy of TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf

More recently, the saber-toothed cat remains were moved from the UBS building to Nashville Visitor Center in the Arena tower of Bridgestone Arena and were unveiled at the November 8, 2016 game against Ottawa.
The Nashville Predator & The First American Cave
Photo courtesy of the NHL \ Nashville Predators

In researching, attempts were made to request \ gain access to the First American Cave under the UBS building to allow more current photos to be taken, but building ownership declined.

A special thanks to TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf for his support and providing photos and information for this post.

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