Bulldozer driver Jesse Steele discovers bones of a juvenile
Columbian mammoth while working on the expansion of Ziegler
Reservoir near Snowmass Village. Steele and project superintendent
Kent Olson unearth approximately 25 percent of the animal's bones,
which Olson indentifies as belonging to a mammoth after researching
the find on the Internet. Kit Hamby, director of the Snowmass
Water and Sanitation District, and his team manage the initial
discovery, stabilize the site, care for the bones, and contact the
Denver Museum of Nature & Science about the discovery.
Dr. Ian Miller, the Museum's curator of paleontology and head of
the Earth Science Department, sends a small team of Museum
staff to Snowmass Village to inspect the bones. The Museum takes an
immediate interest in the discovery and begins discussing a
possible excavation with the Snowmass Water and Sanitation
The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District votes unanimously to
donate the fossils to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Discussions continue about excavation logistics.
The Museum's chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, along with Miller
and Dr. Steve Holen, curator of archaeology, visit the Ziegler
Reservoir site. While they are there, project superintendent Kent
Olson discovers the remains of a large fossil initially thought to
be a second mammoth. On further inspection, this animal was
identified as a mastodon. It is only the fourth mastodon discovery
on record in Colorado, greatly increasing the significance of the
Steven Holen arrives in Snowmass Village with a small team to
prepare for excavation and tour the site. After evaluating the
finds to date, he confirms discovery of at least three mastodons in
addition to the original juvenile Columbian mammoth, plus parts of
other undetermined mammoths and/or mastodons.
October 30 & 31
More than 1,000 local residents view bones on display at the
Snowmass Water and Sanitation District offices. Meanwhile, the
excavation team from the Museum prepares to begin the dig. They
create a site map identifying the areas where bones had been
discovered, and take samples for radiocarbon dating. The advance
team also sets up a grid over the juvenile Columbian mammoth to
guide the excavation.
Samantha Sands, an educator with the Museum, visits students at
Glenwood Springs High School and Carbondale Middle School. As
part of the public outreach and education effort, she shows
examples of mammoth and mastodon bones from the dig site and
explains how Museum scientists will study the area. She makes
presentations to 8,500 students over the next five days, earning
her the nickname "Samammoth."
The excavation officially begins. Using hand tools and
archaeological techniques supplemented by a small backhoe, the
Museum team opens up four of the sites that have produced fossil
bone. Dig crews recover more mammoth and mastodon bones, and
sediments containing the fossils of plants, invertebrates such as
insects and clams, and a variety of microscopic fossils.
Almost immediately after beginning work for the day, field crews
uncover the top of a large skull. Based on the fact that two
mastodon tusks had been discovered nearby, Holen concludes the
skull was most likely a mastodon. Careful excavation of the skull
continues throughout the day. It is the first mastodon skull ever
discovered in Colorado.
The most significant day at the dig site yet. Excavation crews
discover two additional species: a ground sloth and a small
deer-like animal. Museum scientists also determine there are two
additional mastodons at the site after discovering a mastodon tooth
and a new leg bone in separate places.
The Museum welcomes several renowned experts to the dig site.
Dr. Greg McDonald, a Museum research associate and an expert on
sloths, identifies the sloth found earlier in the week as a
Megalonyx sp., or Jefferson's ground sloth. It is the first one
ever discovered in Colorado. Two other experts, Dr. Russ Graham, an
Ice Age mammal expert from the Pennsylvania State University, and
Dr. Daniel Fisher, a mastodon expert from the University of
Michigan, work with excavation crews at the site.
With the help of the bulldozers working on site, excavation
crews uncover the skull and horns of a gigantic Ice Age bison on
Saturday afternoon. The animal would have been about twice the size
of modern bison. "This is the iconic fossil recovered thus far in
the excavation," said Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Museum's chief curator
and vice president of Research and Collections.
Excavation crews discover a second Columbian mammoth at the dig
site. The animal was found in the top of a peat layer not far from
the first mammoth uncovered at the site on October 14. After
several hours of excavation, dig crews have identify the mammoth's
jaw, teeth, and tusks at the front of its skull.
Crews excavate a beautiful seven-foot mastodon tusk first
discovered on November 8. Paleoecologists from the U.S. Geological
Survey visit 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.
Scientists take a longer look at several bones from another Ice
Age bison uncovered earlier in the week. The bones are from the
hind legs of the animal, along with several ribs and vertebrae. The
bison-the third one discovered-is the most complete one found at
the site thus far.
Museum photographer Rick Wicker documents the bones of the
original discovery mammoth in preparation for final excavation.
Also, dig crews race against the weather to clear a new bone bed
where they discovered the fossils of American mastodon, Ice Age
deer, an Ice Age bison, and a well-preserved sloth tooth. Initial
radiocarbon dates indicate the dig site is more than 43,500 years
Excavation crews work on removing the original discovery
mammoth's fossils from the ground and prepare to transport the
almost 600 bones and bone fragments excavated at Ziegler Reservoir
to the Museum for preparation and preservation.
The Museum's "Mammoth and Mastodon Madness" event in Snowmass
Village draws approximately 3,500 people from across the Roaring
Fork Valley area.
The Museum wraps up the excavation at Ziegler Reservoir fossil
site for the season as winter weather moves in. In just one
month's time, the excavation crews recover almost 600 bones and
bone pieces, 15 tusks and two tusk tips, 14 bags of tusk fragments,
and more than 130 samples of peat, wood, leaves, rocks and
Museum scientists, conservationists, trained volunteers begin
the process of preserving the discoveries made at Ziegler
Reservoir. First, specimens are removed from their field dressings
and bags. They are documented, photographed, washed, and placed in
new plastic bags to dry out very slowly-a process that could take a
year or more for some specimens.
After the dig concluded for the season last fall, a staff member
from Gould Construction was sifting through sediment that had been
removed from the dig site and made an important find. One small
clue -- the two-inch lower molar of a Camelops -- was
There are 107 trained volunteers working at the Snowmastodon
Project dig site this summer. So, how did they get the skills
necessary to dig up Ice Age fossils? The Denver Museum of Nature
& Science offers an internationally recognized program called
the Paleontology Certification
Program, which gives amateur scientists an opportunity to
professionalize their skills.
More than a week into its largest-ever fossil excavation, and
the Museum continues to find a treasure trove of Ice Age fossils,
despite challenging spring weather conditions. Additionally, local
students get the latest updates from the site via live broadcasts
and two-way interaction with Museum scientists.
The excavation team uncovers a heap of Mastodon bones --
including five pelvises, two tusks, and two skulls -- all located
together among the sediments at the bottom of the area's original
lakebed and on top of the glacial moraine.
The Museum uncovers 546 Ice Age fossils and begins the third
week of its largest‐ever fossil excavation. Additionally, local
volunteers are get ready to participate in the dig between June 6
and 24, and then share their once‐in‐a‐lifetime scientific
experience with the community.
The Museum uncovers mastodons of all ages -- including infants
and juveniles. The mastodon clues include a small skull of an
infant (the size of a basketball), a small skull of a juvenile (the
size of a beer keg), a tiny femur or thigh bone that may have
belonged to a fetus (it measures seven inches in length), and more
than two dozen tusks.
The team reaches the halfway point in the seven-week project to
remove Ice Age fossils from Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass
Village. More than 1,000 fossils have been uncovered since digging
resumed on May 15, including 15 jacketed fossils of mastodon skulls
and pelvises that each weigh 300 to 700 pounds and are the size of
a kitchen stove.
Work on the seven-week dig at Ziegler Reservoir passes the
halfway mark and continues at an aggressive pace, with more than
1,700 Ice Age fossils uncovered. The crew of more than 40 people is
works with efficiency, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers
and additional Museum staff, plus excavators, track hoes, and other
The long list of Ice Age animals that once lived near Snowmass
Village continues to grow -- with the addition of an Ice Age
horse. Also, the team uncovers a complete skull of a Jefferson
Crews from the Museum work with increased efficiency and set new
records for the number of fossils uncovered each day. The total
bone count has reaches 3,253 with an average of 247 fossils found
per day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week.
A group of 27 scientists joins the 50-person dig team at the Ice
Age fossil site near Snowmass Village. With one week left in the
dig at Ziegler Reservoir, the fossil excavation is accelerates to
its completion. Crews from the Denver Museum of Nature &
Science pull 4,056 fossils from the site since work resumed in the