Kirk Johnson, the chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, can hardly understate the magnitude of the Ice Age fossils that have been found just outside Snowmass Village. “Not only will it completely shape our understanding of life in the Rockies during the Ice Age, but it will become forever iconic for the kids of Colorado,” he says of the accidental discovery of fossils at a construction site last month (via The Denver Post).
As excavation work has ended for the winter, the list of found specimens—seemingly long enough to fill an entire museum—is impressive: eight to 10 American mastodons; four Columbian mammoths; two Ice Age deer; four Ice Age bison; one Jefferson’s ground sloth (the first ever found in Colorado); one tiger salamander; distinctly chewed wood that provides evidence of Ice Age beavers; insects, including iridescent beetles; snails and microscopic crustaceans called ostracods; and large quantities of well-preserved wood, seeds, cones, and leaves of white spruce, sub-alpine fir, sedges, seeds, and other plants (via museum news release).
Moreover, the fossils are quite well-preserved, researchers say. One of the tusks uncovered is still white, even tens of thousands of years later, and the chances of recovering prehistoric DNA are good, bringing to mind the plot of Jurassic Park (though the remains of the animals recovered lived long after that period). Even the U.S. Geological Survey is in a tizzy about the findings. A trio of USGS scientists have been provided with a lab to study more than 100,000 years of vegetation and climate in Colorado using fossil-bearing sediments excavated from the Snowmass site, according to a news release. The team is expected to investigate pollen and plant fossils in the dirt to see how vegetation changed over time.