Paul E. Anna: High Points | AspenTimes.com

Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

After a morning spent looking at the recently unearthed bones of 50,000-plus-year-old animals I couldn’t get the refrain “Mastodons, Bison and Sloths! Oh my” out of my head. If Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow had been alive at the time those humungous animals roamed the Roaring Fork Valley, they likely would have sung those words instead of the “Lions, Tigers and Bears! Oh my!” they crooned in the “Wizard of Oz.”

Of course Dorothy and the Tin Man and Scarecrow were never really alive (silly me) and those wooly and wacky beasts ruled the world thousands of years before the first man made his debut on the North American continent, but you get my drift. To this day, just the sight of the bones of these predators evokes an “Oh my!”

Anyone who saw the covers of either of yesterday’s Aspen newspapers had to have been impressed by the photographs of the sloth claw that Dr. Kirk Johnson, the chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was holding. And that was just a toenail. The animals that are being uncovered in the Ziegler Lake dig in Snowmass all have tusks and teeth and claws, the likes of which indicate evolution was not for the faint of heart, the weak of spirit or the toothless. Living before the Ice Age was clearly all about survival of the fittest.

The discovery last fall of the final resting place of so many ancient animals may be the most significant thing to happen here since, well, since the Ice Age. I know, I know we are pretty self-absorbed here and think of history in terms of oh, say Spider and Claudine or when they built the new base village at Highlands. But history is much bigger than us. It is even bigger than the houses on Red Mountain, and for the first time that history is being unearthed before our very eyes.

“One stop shopping” is how the Museum’s Dr. Johnson described what has been going on up at the dig site since May 15 when the scientists returned to begin their search which had been halted through the winter. As he explained it, most discovery sites have just one thing, a wooly mammoth or petrified wood, or a strata of ancient plants. But the hole below Sam’s Knob has it all. Bones, bark, plant material, pollen, insects. This lake is a virtual Costco of ancient material. The gaggle of gawkers and journalists who attended the session with Dr. Johnson to stand in the mud and witness the excavation could only look on with amazement as he described the scope of the Snowmass site.

If you are an ologist, that is to say some one who studies the science of something, and if that something deals with animals or plants or pollen or climate or geology, than Snowmass is the hottest spot in the world this month. This accidental discovery of what was originally thought to be just one Mastodon has turned into a veritable treasure trove for those who love looking back at the world before time and learning lessons from the things that inhabited our planet way before we did

Currently there are upwards of forty men and women, ologists all, who are determinedly digging in the mud looking for all they can find from a pre-historic time. The finds they make and the discoveries will be studied for generations to come. One can’t understate just how momentous Snowmass has become in the world of the natural sciences.

About all I can say is “Oh my!”


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