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Bob Strauss

The Mammoths of Snowmass Village

By November 15, 2010

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Fossil hunting is usually a chancy, arduous and slow affair: someone, somewhere, stumbles across what looks like a dinosaur femur, property rights are negotiated, funds are raised, paleontologists are called in, and their meticulous exploration of the site yields results only after weeks or months (and sometimes years) of effort. That's why it's so bracing to witness the recent events in Snowmass Village, Colorado: a mere two weeks after a bulldozer operator accidentally unearthed a Woolly Mammoth skeleton while digging a reservoir, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science embarked on a full-throttle, week-long dig to recover as many bones from the site as possible before the onset of winter.

So far, the results have been spectacular: workers have recovered the bones of five, count 'em, five Mastodons, two Woolly Mammoths, three prehistoric bison, one Megalonyx (the Giant Ground Sloth that was first discovered by Thomas Jefferson), and even an Ice Age deer. (Needless to say, no Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens have been discovered at Snowmass; the mammalian megafauna date from about 25,000 years ago, whereas dinosaurs went extinct tens of millions of years before.) Lately, there's been some wishful thinking that paleontologists will discover ancient Snowmass humans, not a likely prospect since the first known Homo sapiens remains in North America date to only about 10,000 years ago.

Photograph of a North American Mastodon: National Museum of Natural History

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