Snowmass residents ‘digging’ discovery of mammoth bones | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass residents ‘digging’ discovery of mammoth bones

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesStudents from Aspen Country Day School file past a display of mammoth bones in Snowmass Village Wednesday.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The Snowmass Village Water and Sanitation District has yet to decide what to do with the bones of mammoth, discovered last week at a reservoir excavation site near town. Also still to be determined is whether the mammoth is woolly or Columbian.

The district’s board, meeting Wednesday at the Snowmass Club in front of a packed room of curious citizens and media representatives, made no decision. The board will meet again Monday to discuss its options, but the Denver Museum of Nature and Science appears to be the most likely repository for the bones, a selection of which were put on display for the public during the meeting. Fascinated kids and adults filed past the display.

“I came to see this because this is amazing,” said local resident Bianca Hooker.

“It’s exciting for everyone,” said Kit Hamby, Water and Sanitation District manager. The district office, which typically fields perhaps a couple of calls a day related to billing, has been flooded with calls since news of the discovery broke on Monday, he said.

On Wednesday, Ian Miller, paleontologist and chairman of the museum’s Earth Sciences Department, and Bob Mutaw, cultural resources team leader for URS, the engineering firm involved in the reservoir project, were on hand to answer questions from an inquiring public and to describe the nature of the find.

About 20 percent of the animal has been unearthed so far, Mutaw said. The hope is that an entire mammoth is encased in the dark peat that was buried beneath a deep layer of clay and a couple of feet of muck in Ziegler Reservoir.

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The reservoir has been drained and work is under way to quadruple its capacity, to serve the resort’s future needs, Hamby said. The site is at about 8,800 feet – unusual mammoth territory.

“We’ve never found something this complete at high elevation,” Miller said.

The discovery zone has been secured inside chain-link fencing, and is guarded 24 hours a day. The site, and surrounding construction area, are closed to the public.

Completing the excavation and removal of whatever else is found there will take two to four weeks, Mutaw estimated.

Time is of the essence, he said, given the advancing freeze-thaw cycle and the coming of winter.

On Wednesday, URS planned to have a technician search the area with ground-penetrating radar in an attempt to locate other bones.

The museum, if it takes over the dig site, will send staff to unearth the bones and take them to Denver, where they’ll be protected in a controlled atmosphere so they don’t dry out, Miller said. The museum would prepare a cast of the skeleton that could be displayed in Snowmass Village.

The bones would be carbon-dated in an attempt to ascertain their age, but Miller suggested they probably date back more than 10,000 years. An expert with the museum will be able to determine whether the bones are that of a woolly mammoth or a Columbian mammoth, he said.

A woolly mammoth would be a much rarer find, he said.

“There are no woolly mammoths known from Colorado yet,” Miller said.

See Thursday’s Aspen Times for more on Wednesday’s discussion about the mammoth discovery.

janet@aspentimes.com