Discovery Timeline


October 14

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.

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October 16

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 District.

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October 25

The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District votes unanimously to donate the fossils to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Discussions continue about excavation logistics.

October 27

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 fossil site.

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October 29

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.

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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.

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November 1

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."

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November 2

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.

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November 3

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.

Video

November 4

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.

Slideshow Video

November 5

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.

Slideshow Video

November 6

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.

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November 8

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.

Slideshow Video

November 9

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.

Slideshow Video

November 10

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.

Slideshow Video

November 11

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 old.

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November 12

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.

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November 13

The Museum's "Mammoth and Mastodon Madness" event in Snowmass Village draws approximately 3,500 people from across the Roaring Fork Valley area.

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November 14

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 invertebrates.

November 16

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.

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May 17

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 discovered.

May 20

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.

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May 24

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.

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May 27

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.

Video

May 31

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.

Slideshow

June 3

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.

Video

June 7

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.

Video

June 10

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 machines.

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June 14

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 ground sloth.

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June 17

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.

Video

June 24

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 spring.

Video
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  • Museum crew excavates Ice Age fossil site

  • Dr. Joe Sertich excavates a mastodon humerus

  • Tyler Kerr and Cyrus Green excavate a mastodon tusk

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  • Bone from first horse found

  • Liz Miller holds mastodon tooth

  • Bethany Williams catalogues fossils

  • Micro fossils found in sediment

  • Dr. Kirk Johnson digs on mastodon tusk

  • Bison tooth

  • Lunch break

Discovery Timeline

See how this amazing discovery unfolded, from the first fossil to the last day of the dig.

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Snowmastodon Sculpture

In early fall, the Museum will install a bronze sculpture outside the building commemorating the Snowmastodon Project.

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The Science

Learn about the scientific significance of the Snowmastodon Project site. 

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Digging Snowmastodon

Infused with humor and offering the unique perspectives of Dr. Kirk Johnson and Dr. Ian Miller, this compelling narrative clearly illustrates the science of the fossil find. Purchase your copy online today!

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