Denver Museum of Nature & Science Concludes Snowmastodon Project Dig

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has completed its largest-ever fossil excavation at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village. The preserved series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems is one of the most significant fossil discoveries ever made in Colorado. Over the past four months, work on the Snowmastodon Project™ has gone on behind-the-scenes as the Museum continued to preserve and curate the fossils, launched a thorough scientific analysis of the site and commissioned a series of paintings that show the site during various time periods.


Denver Museum of Nature & Science staff and volunteers at the Ziegler Reservoir excavation site near Snowmass Village Copyright © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

In just seven weeks, crews from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science unearthed more than 4,500 fossils and identified 20 different vertebrate animals from the site. Now, scientists will take these findings and use them as an opportunity to learn about the Ice Age history of the Rocky Mountains.

Individuals from the Snowmastodon Project™ science team revealed the following new information at two recent national science conferences:
Growing Animal Species Count-Now 41: The list of different species from the site continues to grow. In addition to seven large mammal species-mammoth, mastodon, Jefferson’s ground sloth, camel, deer, horse, and giant bison-the site has yielded an additional 34 species, including trout, salamanders, shrews, bats, weasels, river otters, rabbits, frogs (4 species), snakes (2 species), lizards (2 species), birds (5 species), and rodents (14 species, including beavers, muskrats, voles, lemmings, mice, gophers, chipmunks, and ground squirrels).
Mastodon Entrapment Theory: Scientists are testing a hypothesis that the more than 30 mastodons uncovered at the site were trapped there in lake sediments that transformed into quicksand during an earthquake or series of quakes.
“Evidence such as the nature of the debris flow deposits, the condition of the bones, and the distribution of the bones may support this scenario,” said Johnson. “Ultimately we use many types of data to test more than one hypothesis. This site is really complicated and this work is just beginning.”

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