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Snowmass Fossil Dig Resumes

Photo by Kirk Siegler
Scientists have unearthed a bounty of rare Ice Age fossils from a reservoir near the resort town of Snowmass Village.

Last fall, construction workers discovered a fossil while expanding a reservoir outside Snowmass Village. Turns out that bone lead researchers to what’s become one of the world's most significant fossil discoveries, and Tuesday the Denver Museum of Nature and Science resumed the dig with plans to finish what they started.


Scientists with the museum worked until they were snowed out last year. But now with the spring melt well under way, they're back.

“From what we know now, we're pretty convinced that this is the most important, high elevation site in North America," said Dr. Kirk Johnson, the museum's chief curator who is leading the dig.

Johnson gave reporters and the public an update on the dig's next steps for the Spring in Snowmass Village Tuesday.

"We're bringing in 36 scientists from around the world who will go after the science and find out what the key scientific questions are and try and answer those questions using a variety of techniques,” Johnson said.

The visiting team members are experts in their fields and will show up at various times throughout the next two months.

So far the site has produced at least eight American mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, four Ice Age bison, two Ice Age deer, a piece of an ancient camel, and plant material mixed in with other fossils.

The Town of Snowmass Village eventually needs to put in a dam and fill the reservoir. But town Manager Russell Forest said the museum will have access in the future to the site.

"The beauty of it is that at any time in the future if the Water District needs to drain the reservoir, the scientists can come back in," Forest said.  "It's literally like putting the discovery on ice."

Scientists have until July 2nd to get all they can out of the ground.

Conrad Wilson reporting from member station KDNK in Carbondale.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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