Rediscover the ‘Snowmastodon’ dig | AspenTimes.com

Rediscover the ‘Snowmastodon’ dig

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
Life-size silhouettes of some of the ice-age organisms found in Ziegler Reservoir are painted on the Tower on the Snowmass Village Mall.
Jeremy Wallace/Aspen Times |

More large mammal bones, a sandbox full of tiny fossils and even live animals are just a few of the attractions at the new and improved Ice Age Discovery Center.

While the future of a permanent exhibit space celebrating the discovery of thousands of ice-age fossils in Snowmass is tied up in the Base Village review process, Snowmass Tourism and the nonprofit Snowmass Discovery decided to put some love into the temporary center on the mall, which has now been open since 2011.

Activities such as children’s storytelling and science lectures have been held in the center for several years, and for the past two years, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science has had a paleontologist on site prepping bones in the center. Now, Tom Temme, who has filled those shoes since the 2013-14 ski season, has been hired full time by Snowmass Discovery.

“I think we’re the only resort in the world with a paleontologist on site,” said Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism.

While Temme won’t be prepping fossils in the center any more, he does have a host of samples from Ziegler Reservoir and other sites, some of which he’ll even let you hold, as they’re on loan from the Denver museum’s educational department. Hands-on education is not only fun, it helps make connections; for example, Temme has a cast of a human femur to compare with the size of those of mastodons, mammoths and bison found in Ziegler.

And while not everything came from the “Snowmastodon” dig, it’s all relevant: Bite marks were found on many of the bones found here, which you can see at the center, so the Denver museum provided skulls of ice-age predators to show what scientists might find next if they go back to Ziegler and dig some more.

Another hands-on learning tool is a box of dirt taken from the reservoir that still contains tiny fossils such as twigs, seeds and even bone fragments of smaller organisms. Guests can sift through the dirt and try to find the ancient items, hold them in their hands and study them under a microscope.

And in a tank at the center of the room live two animals whose ancestors’ bones might be in that mix: Sally and Commander represent two different species of salamanders whose remains were found in Ziegler Reservoir and that still exist today.

On the back wall is a display highlighting some of the important research that has been done using evidence gathered from Ziegler. The most important lesson: That the impacts of climate change are amplified at higher elevations.

The new and improved center has already hosted some student groups. Some students even got to go on a hike to the reservoir, which is on private property but is available to Snowmass Discovery for private tours.

“It struck me … how we could conjure up the ice age,” said Tom Cardamone, executive director of Snowmass Discovery. “Some of them said, ‘I knew about glaciers, but I had no idea glaciers were here.’ … And they could imagine these animals walking in this forest.”

While the new activities make the center more interactive, another goal is to increase Snowmass Discovery’s engagement with the public. The nonprofit exists to build a permanent educational facility centered around the discoveries and climate-change research, but it will take a lot of financial and other support to make that a reality.

A display details the goals of the nonprofit while also providing an opportunity for guests to make donations. Books, plush animals, tours to the reservoir and green-screen photos with props and a background of the dig site are available for donations, too.

jill@snowmasssun.com


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