Snowmass Ice Age ﬁnds back in spotlight
December 16, 2011
DENVER – Mark Jan. 31 on your calendar. That’s the day the February 2012 issue of National Geographic hits the stands. The magazine will feature a short, illustrated article about the Ice Age fossil finds at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village.The discoveries at Ziegler, which captured interest near and far when huge bones from mastodons and other Ice Age animals emerged from the muck, also will be in the spotlight on Feb. 1, when Rocky Mountain PBS airs “Ice Age Death Trap,” a one-hour program that follows scientists as they unearth well-preserved specimens from giant, extinct beasts.For those who can’t wait, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, which led the effort to recover fossils from the reservoir before the effort wrapped up early last summer, will present “NOVA Sneak Peak: Ice Age Death Trap” on Jan. 26. Scientists Kirk Johnson and Ian Miller, museum representatives integrally involved in the fossil dig, will host the program and show excerpts from the PBS program. In addition, attendees will be regaled with the duo’s behind-the-scenes stories from the dig site and the latest scientific updates from ongoing study of the fossils.Finally, the museum has put a giant bison skull on display near the IMAX theater entrance. The Ice Age bison’s horn spread is more than 7 feet wide, compared with less than 3 feet for a modern bison.In addition, visitors to the museum can watch as work with the fossils continues in the museum’s preparatory lab, located near the exit of Prehistoric Journey. Real tusk fragments, which visitors can touch, are part of a display about the Ziegler finds.The first Ziegler fossils emerged in October 2010, when a bulldozer operator working on enlarging the reservoir unearthed the tusk of a young female mammoth. Over the next few weeks, and again the following spring, museum crews recovered some 5,000 bones from 41 different kinds of Ice Age animals. The collection includes mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, camels, deer, horses and bison.The preserved series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems is one of the most significant fossil discoveries in Colorado, according to the museum. Little evidence of mastodons in Colorado had been discovered before the multitude of bones emerged at Ziegler.Scientists now believe entire mastodon families were trapped in the ancient lake where the reservoir now exists. Unable to move, they slowly starved to death, according to the theory. An earthquake or series of quakes could have liquified the soil in the lake quickly, trapping the animals, scientists say.