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It Started as a Small Sinkhole but What Archaeologists Ended Up Finding Is a Fascinating Bit of History


"Very exciting."

Earlier this summer, an inspector was conducting a routine bridge check when a small sinkhole was spotted nearby. This hole would lead to a larger investigation that ultimately revealed more than a dozen 150-year-old caves that were used to make what is a favored drink in America today — beer.

According the Cedar Rapids Gazette, up to 14 beer caves dating back to the mid-1800s were identified after the initial look into the sinkhole revealed there was more to it. The caves were used to age beer made by breweries at the time and keep the beverage cold, the newspaper reported.

The archaeologists office got involved after the inspector lowered a camera into the hole near a Cedar Rapids highway bridge and saw manmade structures. Further research using ground-penetrating radar helped identify the presence of other caves, according to the newspaper.

“They actually found more openings than they thought they would, up to 11 and possibly 14,” Cathy Cutler, a planner with the Iowa Department of Transportation, told the Gazette about the findings issued in a report from the Office of the State Archaeologist.

Archaeologist Marlin Ingalls actually went down into one of the caves, describing it as having stone arched ceilings. He didn't find any artifacts during his exploration, which he told the Gazette only lasted about 15 minutes because it was "impossibly dangerous" in there.

"I did get down in the caves,” Ingalls said. “I’ll probably be the last person to ever do so. It was an interesting experience.”

Historical research tied the caves to Williams Cedar Rapids Brewery and Magnus Eagle Brewery.

Last month, historian Mark Stoffer Hunter told the Gazette that the discovery of the caves was "very exciting." He gave more background about one of the caves, saying that the brewery that constructed it shut down in the prohibition. After the brewery's facilities were demolished in 1937, the cave was used by homeless people before it was boarded up. After that, a neighborhood was built on top before it was later demolished to make way for what is now a highway.

Watch this report from KGAN-TV after the discovery:

Going forward, the newspaper reported that more surveys are needed to measure the caves and confirm exact locations. After that, the state's departments would need to determine if the surrounding roads were safe near the caves and what should become of the structures.

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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