Mammoths and Mastodons Return to Snowmass Village

Jul 2, 2013

After a two year hiatus, the fossils found in a dried up reservoir bed in Snowmass Village are back. A handful of mastodon tusks and mammoth rib bones arrived at the Ice Age Discovery Center earlier this summer. Now, they’re being displayed for the public. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Gussie Maccracken carefully saws open a plaster mold around a huge mastodon tusk. The bone inside hasn’t seen the sun in a couple of years and parts of it haven’t been exposed for several millennia.

"There are sections of this tusk that no one has ever seen before and it hasn’t seen the light of day in 100,000 years," she says.

Scientists pulled the bones from Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass in 2010 and 2011. The fossils were drenched, so in order to dry them out they were wrapped in plaster.

The bones are between 50,000 and 150,000 years old. They were taken to the Denver Museum of Nature of Science after scientists and local volunteers pulled them from the mud. Maccracken says now researchers are studying every aspect of the ecology associated with the bones.

"There are about 6000 large bones. There are ten’s of thousands of the smaller fossils, the rodent sized animals, we have logs, we have invertebrates like snails."

The museum in Denver is one of three fossil repositories in Colorado. So, the staff there curates, studies and stores bones from around the state.

The Ice Age Discovery Center is a short walk from the ski lifts in Snowmass. It’s been open for over two years and has seen the likes of more than 70,000 visitors. But until now, replicas have have replaced the real deal.

Kristina Badgley and her children are from the Chicago area. They are looking over the bones. Badgley's son Caleb is standing near a long tusk.

"I came here because I’m most excited about the mammoth tusks, and it’s pretty cool to see them even though they’re extinct," he says.

The real bones are meant to lure more visitors to the center. It’s part of a larger effort to get the science to the public. Tom Cardamone with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. He’s helping with the effort.

"The community of Snowmass recognizes that they as a whole have a wonderful story to tell and there’s a strong desire to tell that story and to have a stage from which to tell that story," he says.

Cardamone says discussions now include possibly bringing an entire mastodon or mammoth skeleton to Snowmass from Denver and to erect full sized replicas, so people can see what the animals look like. For now, they’re hoping the tusks and rib bones draw crowds.