Ice Age Animal was Twice as Large as Modern Bison
Denver Museum of Nature & Science Field Report from
Snowmass Village: Sunday, November 7, 2010
Note to Reporters and Editors: Every afternoon,
the Denver Museum of Nature & Science will issue an update
about the fossil excavation taking place at Ziegler Reservoir near
Snowmass Village, Colorado. In addition to this e-mail, watch for
another e-mail with links to the still images shot today, and a
third e-mail that will allow you to download video.
Saturday, November 6, Afternoon: On Saturday
afternoon, Denver Museum of Nature & Science excavation crews
uncovered one of the most spectacular discoveries yet at the Ice
Age fossil dig site near Snowmass Village -- the skull and horns of
a gigantic Ice Age bison.
As a Gould construction bulldozer carefully moved muddy silt near
the bottom of the reservoir site, Dr. Ian Miller, the Museum's
curator of paleontology and chair of the Earth Science Department,
spotted an extremely large bison horn core exposed by the heavy
machine operator. The horn was so large Miller initially mistook it
for a mammoth or mastodon tusk.
The bulldozer made one more careful pass through the area and
exposed a second horn core, which led scientists to the spot where
a gigantic bison skull was discovered. When both horns were
repositioned with the skull, the span of the horns was greater than
"I'm trying to think of a cooler fossil that I've ever seen in my
life," said Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Museum's chief curator and vice
president of Research and Collections. "This is the iconic fossil
recovered thus far in the excavation."
The size of the skull and horns indicates the Ice Age animal was
twice as large as modern bison. Scientific experts on the site
hotly debated the age and identification of the specimen. Similar
species found elsewhere in the western United States have indicated
these extremely large bison are often found in sediments as old as
30,000 to 50,000 years old. If confirmed, this suggests that the
Snowmass Village site contains fossils from a range of ages, not
just a single age. If this is true, it would greatly increase the
scientific significance of the site, according to Johnson.
The bison skull was put into a plaster of Paris jacket in the
field, then the 250 pound specimen was carried to a truck to be
transported to the Museum for preparation and preservation. The
plaster jacket will be removed and the fossil will be carefully
washed to remove the silt and mud. Scientists will collect samples
from the skull and attempt to radiocarbon date it and extract
Another Ice Age bison found earlier in the week at the dig site is
possibly a juvenile of the same species as this new bison. All of
the Ice Age scientific experts at the site agree that making a
proper identification must wait until the skull can be cleaned and
compared to other specimens in museum and university
Media Availability: Dr. Ian Miller, Dr. Steve
Holen and Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Museum's chief curator and Vice
President of Research and Collections will be available for phone
interviews late today by appointment.
For additional information about the excavation, interview clips,
video clips and still images from the site, please check the Denver
Museum of Nature & Science's home page and press page.
About the Denver Museum of Nature &
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain
Region's leading resource for informal science education. A variety
of engaging exhibits, discussions and activities help Museum
visitors celebrate and understand the natural wonders of Colorado,
Earth and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado
Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum,
check www.dmns.org, or call 303-370-6000.
Many of the Museum's educational programs and exhibits are
made possible in part by generous funding from the citizens of the
seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural