First Week of Excavation Reveals
Exceptionally-Preserved Ice Age Ecosystem
Download photos from the excavation site.
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, CO-November 5, 2010-Denver Museum of Nature
& Science excavation crews discovered two additional Ice Age
mammal species at a fossil dig site at Ziegler Reservoir near
Snowmass Village, Colorado on Thursday. The first find was a
humerus, or upper arm bone, of a giant ground sloth. The
second discovery was a small deer-like animal. The total
number of mammal species found at the dig site now totals five:
Columbian mammoth, American mastodon, Ice Age bison, giant ground
sloth, and the yet to be identified deer-like animal. When combined
with the well-preserved plant matter, insects, and invertebrates
found at the site, the excavation is revealing an
exceptionally-well preserved Ice Age ecosystem.
"It is truly uncommon to get all parts of a fossil ecosystem
preserved in one place," said Dr. Ian Miller, the Museum's curator
of paleontology and chair of the Earth Science Department. "Instead
of having just a piece of the ecosystem to tell the story, you've
got all aspects of it. It's one of the most exciting scientific
discoveries I've ever worked on."
Also on Thursday, Museum scientists determined there are two
additional mastodons at the dig site after discovering a mastodon
tooth and a leg bone in separate places. The discoveries bring the
total number of partial mastodons found to five.
In another area of the dig site on Thursday, a Museum volunteer
watching a bulldozer moving sediment spotted the horn of an Ice Age
bison as it was churned up by the machine. The horn, along with
additional bison bones found in two other locations, make
scientists believe they have found parts of three Ice Age bison at
the excavation site.
Construction crews working on the expansion of Ziegler Reservoir
made the original discovery of a juvenile Columbian mammoth at the
site on October 14. Over the weekend, Museum crews plotted a grid
above the discovery and have begun a careful excavation of the area
using archaeological techniques that remove sediment layer by
layer. The material is then screened so workers can search for any
evidence of human artifacts associated with the bones. Thus far, no
evidence of human interaction with the Columbian mammoth has been
found, though the excavation has uncovered additional portions of
There are four excavation crews working on recovering bones at the
dig site right now. Another crew is focused on collecting plant
matter found in a layer of peat, and they are making extraordinary
All the plants recovered to date are still original material.
Crews have found large logs, some up to three feet in diameter,
where the grain and growth rings of the woods are easily seen. This
will allow scientists to easily identify the species of the trees.
Also, crews have recovered seeds, pollen, and leaves that are
"mummified," where original organic material is preserved.
Scientists also found preserved insects, some still
iridescent, and a number of fossilized snails, which may tell them
something about the water quality of the lake or bog where they
lived thousands of years ago.
In order to ensure a thorough analysis of this Ice Age ecosystem,
the Museum will enlist the assistance of top scientists in a number
of specialties. Dr. Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist from the
University of Michigan, will visit the excavation over the weekend.
He has extensive experience excavating mastodon sites similar to
the one in Snowmass Village. Dr. Fisher is an internationally
renowned expert in mastodons, and is the guest curator for a
traveling exhibition called "Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age,"
which opened March 5, 2010, at The Field Museum of Natural History
Dr. Russ Graham, an Ice Age mammal specialist from Pennsylvania
State University, and Dr. Greg MaDonald, a fossil sloth expert,
will join the crew over the weekend. Other outside scientists will
be consulted later in the excavation.
The Museum's excavation crew intends to work as quickly and
efficiently as possible to remove as many fossils as they can
before the heavy snowfall begins. Plans call for the crew to be at
the site through the month of November, weather
Media Visits to Excavation Site: All media visits
to the dig site must be coordinated through Laura Holtman, and may
take several days to schedule. Please plan ahead. We are not able
to honor all requests out of respect for the construction crew
still hard at work at the reservoir.
The Museum will provide regular updates from the dig site, as well
as photos and video clips for your use. The Museum will make its
scientists and experts available for telephone interviews
Also, for additional information about the excavation and
background information, check the Denver Museum of Nature &
Science's home page and press page.
About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science 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