The Snowmastodon Project®
In October 2010, a sharp-eyed bulldozer operator working near a Colorado ski area in Snowmass Village uncovered the bones of a young female mammoth. Over the next 10 months, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science conducted the largest excavation in its 112-year history, yielding a treasure trove of Ice Age fossils. Museum crews uncovered more than 6,000 bones of 41 kinds of animals, including mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, tiny rodents, camels, deer, horses, giant bison, and even tiger salamanders. A finely preserved series of high-alpine ecosystems had protected the specimens, making this one of the most significant science discoveries ever made in Colorado.
A 40-member science team representing the Museum, the U.S. Geological Survey, and academic institutions in North America and Europe are studying evidence from the site. Labs from California to England have samples of bones, plants, insects, sediment, and biomolecules. In June 2012, the scientists gathered for the first time since completing the excavation to share preliminary findings. The team will continue to study evidence from the Ice Age site until their collective results are ready to be published.
Public interest in the Snowmastodon Project® has been among the most remarkable outcomes of the discovery. Open-house displays of the bones have attracted thousands of people. Teachers from communities near Snowmass Village were trained to participate in the dig and have since assisted with public outreach. The popular book Digging Snowmastodon, by lead scientists Kirk Johnson and Ian Miller, chronicles a first-hand account of the events that made the discovery an international sensation. The NOVA television special “Ice Age Death Trap,” which follows the scientists as they race against time to complete the excavation, attracted 6.3 million viewers nationwide when it premiered on PBS.
Visitors to Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age will have the opportunity to learn more about this amazing discovery and see fossils of some the species from the site, including mastodons, ground sloths, giant bison, and much more.