Denver Museum of Nature and Science President and CEO Lends a Hand on the Snowmass Village Fossil Excavation

Top Scientific Experts Join Museum Staff to Lend Knowledge, Expertise

Denver Museum of Nature & Science Field Report from Snowmass Village: Saturday, November 6, 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: Today at the Snowmass Village Ice Age ecosystem excavation, Denver Museum of Nature & Science scientists welcomed several renowned experts to the dig site.  The outside scientists will spend the weekend advising and consulting with the Museum's scientific staff, imparting knowledge about the five Ice Age animals discovered at the excavation site thus far: Columbian mammoth, American mastodon, Ice Age bison, a ground sloth, and an Ice Age deer.

Dr. Greg McDonald, a Museum research associate and an expert on sloths, confirmed that a bone found on Thursday was a humerus, or upper arm bone, of a Megalonyx sp., or Jefferson's ground sloth. He was also able to say definitively that this is the first Jefferson's ground sloth ever to be discovered in Colorado. According to McDonald, there have been nine other sloths found in Colorado, but they are a different species called Harlan's ground sloth.

Dr. Russ Graham, an Ice Age mammal expert from the Pennsylvania State University, visited the site today, and is interested in mapping the occurrence of the five animal species discovered so far near Snowmass Village in a database called Faunmap. Faunmap documents the distribution of Ice Age mammal species in North America.

Also today, scientists were able to determine the deer-like animal discovered on Thursday is, in fact, a deer of the genus Odocoileus. Further excavation of the deer over the past two days has revealed the small animal's fractured antlers, which will be carefully recovered and preserved.

Dr. Daniel Fisher, a mastodon expert from the University of Michigan, worked with excavation crews in an area where another set of bones was discovered on Friday. Dr. Fisher's research interprets the growth rings in mastodon and mammoth tusks with such precision that he can determine the age, sex and life history of the animal the tusk belonged to, as well as certain details about the climate and environment in which the animal lived. Because of the uniqueness of this high-altitude Ice Age ecosystem, Dr. Fisher is especially interested in studying the tusks recovered from the site so far.  

Dr. Fisher also participated in identifying an important discovery on the site this morning. The Museum's president and CEO, George Sparks, made the find while sifting through a pile of bulldozed peat. He recovered a large vertebra. Dr. Fisher was called over to inspect the bone and determined that it is an anterior thoracic vertebra, probably from a mammoth. If confirmed by additional evidence, it would be the second mammoth discovered on site.   

"I was just stunned when it fell out of the hill," said Sparks. "I thought, wow, that's a big bone."

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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