A decade is an insignificant span for the remains of ice-age-era mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloths dug up at the Snowmastodon site near Snowmass Village in October 2010. For Homo sapiens, however, the anniversary is the perfect time to celebrate ancient discoveries made within Colorado’s borders.
Joe Sertich, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s curator of dinosaurs, says Colorado boasts no dino site more significant than Cañon City’s Garden Park Fossil Area. The first remains of several species emerged from this spot, along with some of the most complete skeletons of Jurassic Park classics like the Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.
Bones scattered around the Fruita Paleontological Resource Area have been changing the field of study for a century. The plot of land even birthed a new discipline: Paleopathology, the study of injury and disease in dinosaurs, was invented there in 1900, when scientist Elmer Riggs found an Apatosaurus with broken bones that had healed during its lifetime.
Fossils found near Corral Bluffs in 2016 revealed the missing link between dino extinction and mammal superiority. After an asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, the remains show that small mammals and their progeny, suddenly free of their dinosaur overlords, were able to grow in size and abundance, eventually repopulating the planet.
Fossils of a Feather
No disrespect to The Land Before Time franchise, but actual dinosaurs looked different from the scaly “longnecks” and “threehorns” in the movies. How do we know? The discovery of the Ornithomimus, or ostrich-mimic dinosaur, in Lakewood in 1889. The uncanny similarity to birds was the first hint that at least some dinosaurs had—gasp—feathers.
A Human Touch
Sure, the several dozen mammoth skeletons at the Dent excavation site near Milliken may be fewer than Snowmastodon’s haul, but arrowheads alongside these bones yielded new information about our ancestors: They lived among the beasts as the most recent ice age drew to a close and are the earliest known example of prehistoric humans in Colorado.