Bones from Ziegler dig return to Snowmass |

Bones from Ziegler dig return to Snowmass

Isabelle Chapman
Special to the Sun
Isabelle Chapman/Special to the Sun

Gussie McCracken will not be spending her summer doing what most 24-year-olds are looking to do in Snowmass — hiking, mountain biking or attending free concerts. Instead, she will be preparing 150,000-year-old mammoth fossils to be displayed at Snowmass’ Ice Age Discovery Center.

McCracken, who majored in biology at Colorado College, was sent by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to be the Snowmastodon Project preparator this summer at the Ice Age Discovery Center. McCracken will spend the next three months working as an intern cleaning and repairing seven large mammoth bones uncovered in Snowmass in 2011. These bones have never been on display, but with the help of McCracken, the town of Snowmass Village and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, they soon will be.

According to town Communications Director Kelly Vaughn, in addition to her contributions in terms of restoring the fossils, McCracken also will play a key role in developing educational programming at the Ice Age Discovery Center.

“The biggest benefit to having her here is to add a level of programming and depth to the Ice Age Discovery Center,” Vaughn said of McCracken.

For McCracken, working on this project is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“You never actually think you’re going to get to work on a fossil when you’re growing up,” McCracken said. “That’ll be so enjoyable.”

With the help of ACES President and Chief Ecologist Tom Cardamone, the project to remove the seven large fossils — three tusks, three ribs and a humerus — from their field jackets and prepare them for public viewing will be under way this week.

According to Cardamone, the public could not be more excited.

“In this great clamoring, all these people walk in here, and they want to see where (the fossils) came from,” Cardamone said, gesturing to several groups of children who wandered into the Discovery Center at the Snowmass Mall as he spoke. “And so here (the fossils) are; they’re coming back in these jackets of plaster.”

Sue Whittingham, the Ice Age Discovery Center manager, agrees with Cardamone but also thinks that the fossil discovery is something that makes the Snowmass community unique.

“From our perspective, this is really something that puts Snowmass on the map,” Whittingham said. “It’s something that gives locals a sense of pride and visitors a reason to come here.”

McCracken suspects that working with the Snowmass community could perhaps be even more rewarding than working with the fossils. She hopes that community members won’t just stop in to learn about the bones but also volunteer some time to help with the fossil preparation, which will occur until Oct. 1, when the fossils go back to the museum.

“I’m looking forward to answering lots of questions — getting people excited about science,” McCracken said. “Just looking at a fossil, people think, ‘Oh cool, it’s a tusk. It’s beautiful — but I think it’s the science behind it that is really the most striking thing about it.”

Isabelle Chapman is a summer intern working for The Aspen Times through July.