Woolly Mammoth Remains Found in Snowmass

wandermelon’s Terena Eisner visits one of the most significant fossil finds in American history, including the discovery of over 4,500 bones from woolly mammoths, mastodons, and 20 other Ice Age animals located in a Snowmass reservoir.

Snowmass, Colorado’s legendary ski runs usually make the headlines. But this picturesque ski town has been in the news lately due to the recent discovery here of one of the world’s most significant paleontological finds. An operator of a bulldozer working on a reservoir project first noticed rib bones of what turned out to be a woolly mammoth last October. That was the beginning of a massive effort to unearth Ice Age fossils near Snowmass Village.

I was fortunate enough to be allowed onto the site where some 37 scientists from 18 universities have been working along with large crews to uncover the remains. The most significant part of the discovery is that actual bones are being unearthed, rather than just fossilized bones. So far more than 4,500 bones from at least 20 different animals have been found, according to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Woolly Mammoth Tooth

Dr. Kirk Johnson, leader of the excavation team and vice president of the Research and Collections Division at the museum, led our group through the immense excavation site and explained that close to 3,000 of the bones have come from mastodons, making this the largest discovery in the state’s history. He showed us enormous woolly mammoth teeth and mastodon ribs – all of the remains have been unusually preserved because there was a layer of clay covering the reservoir that encapsulated the remains. Johnson estimates the age of the fossils to be between 100,000 to 150,000 years old, and he believes that there must have been some kind of death trap surrounding the ancient lake that caused such a large number of animals to die in one place.

Large crews are busy finishing up the fossil dig, which ends today so that the construction of the dam can continue. Johnson predicts the species list will grow to 30 or 40 once scientists have had time to examine the specimens back at the museum. Visitors curious to see the remains will be able to view some of them at a small museum at the Snowmass Mall, the Ice Age Discovery Center, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until August 18. Afterwards, a more extensive collection is planned to be on view at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.


  1. terry wynne on October 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    the tooth this guy is holding is not a mammoth tooth,its a mastasdon tooth.I cant believe these people have a degree in this field and dont know the difference between a mammoth tooth and a mastadon tooth. There is 37 scientist their and they are putting this on the web as a mammoth tooth. What a joke.

  2. Byron Ewing on February 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    The quick demise of these animals reminds me of the Caribbean Island where there was a large mudslide by a lake some years ago. There was, at the same time, a release of carbon dioxide from the lake that killed about a hundred of the nearby villagers. The event may have been caused by a small earthquake.

  3. Greg on June 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    It really irks me that if they speculate that the ‘clay mammoth’ is associated with human activity, then why don’t they call out a trained archaeologist.

    To make things worse, they’re excavation techniques were laughable once this realization came to be. What could’ve been one of the most remarkable finds of this century they really pulled an O.J. Simpson on this one. If human made artifacts do show up, the find will forever have an asterisk beside it due to improper excavation techniques. These scientists are just glory hounds and don’t admit that outside professions have far more expertise than they do and have the know to solve the questions they are puzzled by.

  4. Shibui on January 16, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    I second Greg’s concern about excavation techniques after seeing the NOVA show about the find tonight. As they were talking about how this was a potentially find of the century, I was flabbergasted about their cavalier excavation methods, with seemingly no careful positioning of finds, little detailed photograph, guys walking all over the area of the ones and boulders, earth being removed in hunks. The archaeologists I know of excavate a few mms at a time, paying attention to any telltale material — organic, biological, lithic. Soils are floated for minute botanical evidence, a good way to date the level. Minute flakes of stone or bone are preserved, bagged and labeled. Significant finds are covered over until the et-qualified professionals for the demands of the particular situation can be brought to do or supervise the excavation.
    This seemed only a few steps better than the “diggers,” the lay people who go out to find “arrowheads” and destroy possibly rich archaeological sites in their rummaging.
    And if they think there is human evidence at their site — a premise that will be at worse laughed at by most archaeologists — they might want to talk to Dr. Al Goodyear in South Carolina, who has been ridiculed by some for his contention that his excavations on the Savannah River have turned up rough, potentially human-made lithics at the 50,000-year level.

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