Denver Museum of Nature & Science Excavation Crews Race Against Winter Weather to Preserve Mastodon Tusk

Denver Museum of Nature & Science Field Report from Snowmass Village: Monday, November 9, 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.   

Today: Three inches of fresh snow greeted Denver Museum of Nature & Science excavation crews this morning in Snowmass Village, Colorado, and more snow fell throughout the day.  The race against winter has officially begun.  

One of the main areas of focus today is the removal of a beautiful seven-foot mastodon tusk first discovered yesterday by Dane Miller, the younger brother of Dr. Ian Miller, the Museum's curator of paleontology. Dane Miller and several other volunteers form a team nicknamed the "Blade Runners." Their job is to walk beside bulldozers as they remove layers of sediment, watching for fossils that are churned up by the bull dozer blade. The Blade Runners must signal the drivers to stop before the fossils are crushed under the bulldozer's treads. The younger Miller first spotted the mastodon after a bulldozer blade clipped the tip of the tusk on Monday.

Today, other dig crews worked to excavate the tusk to prepare it for "jacketing" in plaster of Paris and burlap. The mammoth and mastodon tusks found at the Ziegler Reservoir fossil dig site are especially fragile. The plaster jackets applied in the field protect them as they are removed from the ground and transported to the Museum in Denver. The jackets also prevent the tusks from drying out too fast and shattering into pieces that cannot be reassembled. 

Also today, paleoecologists from the U.S. Geological Survey visited the Ziegler Reservoir dig site to help Museum scientists gain a better understanding of the stratigraphy of the sediments. Their expertise should help explain how this ancient lake filled with sediment, and how long that process took.  

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. 

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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 Facilities District.

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