The Snowmastodon Project™
On October 14, 2010, bulldozer operator Jesse Steele was
excavating a reservoir near Snowmass Village when he saw bones
coming over the top of his bulldozer blade. Within two days,
scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were on
site, and within two weeks a Museum team was excavating what has
become one of the most significant scientific discoveries in
The find is an exceptionally preserved Ice Age ecosystem. As of
December 2010, the site had produced the remains of eight to 10
American mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, a Jefferson's ground
sloth, four gigantic bison, two Ice Age deer, snails, iridescent
insects, and plant matter that is still green after more than
News of the once-in-a-lifetime discovery spread like wildfire
throughout Colorado, generating enormous public interest. In the
Roaring Fork Valley, 8,500 school children lined up to see the
bones and learn about the discovery from Museum educators. During
two days in November, more than 3,500 people in Snowmass Village
and 2,500 people in Denver attended Mammoth and Mastodon Madness
Days to see the fossils and learn more about the Ice Age in
For the next six months, the Museum is focusing on preserving the
bones from this Ice Age treasure trove and planning next steps.
Museum scientists have assembled a team of more than two dozen
scientific experts who will gather in Snowmass Village in May 2011
to continue this amazing excavation
Click here to get caught up on
everything that happened in the field, learn what scientists are
doing now to preserve the bones, and find out the latest
discoveries from our team of experts.
The Kaiparowits Basin Project focuses on the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in southern Utah, led
by Dr. Scott Sampson of the University of Utah. GSENM is located in
an extremely remote and wild area and was one of the last regions
in the lower 48 states to be explored. This amazingly beautiful
area is full of fossil plants and animals between 95 and 74 million
years old and is arguably one of the last unexplored dinosaur bone
yards in the United States.
The dinosaur species being discovered are new to science. Many
of them are so well preserved that impressions of their skin are
Relying on other branches of geology and paleontology, the
Kaiparowits Basin Project looks to understand the ancient
environments in which the dinosaurs lived. This includes studying
fossil plants. Dr. Kirk Johnson and Dr. Ian Miller of the Denver
Museum of Nature & Science are doing this basic paleobotanical
exploration and excavation.
"It's huge, big country that's really hard to work in. The
fossils plants are difficult to find, but when you do find them,
they are gorgeous," said Dr. Johnson.
The story emerging from these fossil discoveries shows a
diversity of life that lived in a swampy, subtropical coastal plain
overrun by flowering plants. As research and fieldwork continues,
more elements of this ancient narrative will come to light.
"Think about fossil leaves as trading cards. It's possible to
collect hundreds and hundreds of them, and with this sort of sample
size you can begin to rebuild lost ecosystems," Dr. Johnson
This project is supported by the National Science Foundation,
the KT Challenge Fund, the Bureau of Land Management, and the
Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Paleolatitude of Cretaceous and Paleogene Terranes on the West Coast of North America
North America did not always exist it does today. Over billions
of years, continents have morphed and shifted. Dr. Ian Miller
developed a new method for estimating the ancient latitude, or
paleolatitude, of modern regions.
The "Baja BC hypothesis" suggests that western Washington State,
British Columbia, and southern Alaska originated at the latitude of
Mexico. Using fossil leaves, Dr. Miller discovered remarkable
correlations between the paleoclimate of these now distant
First, Dr. Miller used modern plants to determine the relationship
between leaf margins (edges), mean annual temperature (MAT), and
latitude. Next, he used fossil leaves from various regions to
determine the MAT of different latitudes and elevations during the
Cretaceous period (110 to 100 million years ago).
Dr. Miller's team then studied fossil leaves from 43 plant species
collected in the Winthrop Formation, a mid-Cretaceous sandstone
formation in northern Washington. Using leaf margin analysis, they
determined that the MAT of the region during the mid-Cretaceous was
about 74°F, suggesting a subtropical or tropical climate.
When compared to Dr. Miller's MAT profile, the data from the
Winthrop formation indicates that western Washington State, British
Columbia, and southern Alaska indeed originated at the latitude of
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