DENVER - Less than two years after the Denver Museum of Nature and Science unearthed thousands of ice-age treasures near Snowmass Village, a mammoth and mastodon exhibit will open in Denver, and the staff is taking the opportunity to showcase its findings from the 2010 dig.
Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, developed by the Field Museum of Chicago, starts this weekend and focuses on the evolution of the beasts, their differences and what might have led to their extinction. The Denver museum will contribute evidence from various Colorado dig sites, primarily Snowmass. Exhibits are planned years in advance, so this one was on the museum's schedule before staff members even knew what an amazing find they would make near Snowmass.
"(It's) so fortunate that we get this opportunity," said Ian Miller, who co-led what the museum calls the Snowmastodon Project and is curating the exhibit.
The museum could have put out its 3,000-plus mastodon bones, but because the exhibit already includes many of those as well as life-size models, the Snowmass fossils are mostly other animal and plant specimens, including parts of camels and horses, birds and salamanders, fossil cones, Douglas fir logs, and a branch that shows where beetles chewed under its bark.
"The exhibit is about the evolution," Miller said. "Snowmass is going to play a part in helping us understand what that saga is."
Although Ziegler Reservoir is one of the "finest mastodon sites in the world now," Miller said what makes the site special is the wide spectrum of pieces discovered.
"It's really a treasure for all of us," he said. "Certainly one of the things that makes Colorado a unique state. ... (It offers) a crystal-clear glimpse into the ecosystem of 120 (thousand) to 50,000 years ago. And it was the ecosystem that was right here in our backyard."
Miller said he expects that the science conducted using the Snowmass findings will be published in about a year. A total of 45 paleontologists are working on the project. Miller said having so many is rare in the field.
This exhibit will be the first opportunity for the public to see these particular pieces, with the exception of the bison skull, Miller said.
"We're thrilled to get a good chunk of the stuff out on the museum floor," he said.
Although it didn't get nearly the media coverage, the Denver Museum also discovered another site in Holyoke, Colo., the same year of the Ziegler dig. What they found there was an ancestor species of mastodons. Museum visitors will have the opportunity to watch volunteers clean and prepare findings from that site.