Camel crops up at Snowmass dig |

Camel crops up at Snowmass dig

Jeanne McGovernThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Add the Ice Age camel to the growing list of animals that roamed the area near Snowmass Village some 50,000 to 150,000 years ago.”We’ve added a camel to the mix, and we’re just getting started,” Kirk Johnson, vice president of research and collections and chief curator for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, told members of the media assembled Tuesday in Snowmass. “This just keeps getting better.”According to Johnson, the 2-inch lower molar of a Camelops was discovered in a pile of peat pulled out of Ziegler Reservoir, where excavation work is again under way after a six-month hiatus due to winter weather. The tooth was found when a construction crew member was sifting through sediment that had been removed last fall to ready the peat for repurposing. Also found in recent days was another massive mastodon bone.”Last Friday, while we were trying to clean off the site, I walked into the ice flow area. There were channels of water running underneath the ice.” said Kit Hamby, director of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which owns the land where the fossils have been found and is now working with the museum on the excavation project. “I saw something that looked like a log; I just saw a portion of it. I got in there and pulled it out.”It was the humerus, the upper arm part of a mastodon.”Johnson said he wasn’t sure if the bone belonged to a mastodon already identified by scientists or was from a new animal, as the project – dubbed The Snowmastodon Project – is like putting pieces of a prehistoric puzzle together one sliver at a time.”It’s a Flintstones-like endeavor,” said Johnson, describing the discoveries – both large and small – he expects his crews to find in the coming weeks. “It is truly amazing what is happening up here.”In fact, the dig site near Snowmass Village is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s largest fossil excavation project ever – involving 36 scientists, 107 trained volunteers, 35 staff members and nine interns. Crews of more than 40 people will work each day for the next seven weeks to sift through more than 3,000 tons of dirt by July 1, when the site will be handed back over to the water district and work on the expanded reservoir will be completed (a small excavation crew will remain on the site, though). To date, scientists have discovered bones from eight to 10 American mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, two Ice Age deer, four Ice Age bison, one Jefferson’s ground sloth, one Ice Age camel and many tiger salamanders, as well as evidence of beaver, insects, snails and microscopic crustaceans. Also uncovered in the peat beneath the reservoir are large quantities of well-preserved wood, seeds, cones, and leaves of sub-alpine white spruce, subalpine fir, sedges, pollen and other plants.Visit for more information and updates as the excavation work

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