News / USA

    Construction Crew Unearths Ice Age Fossils

    Mammoths and sloths among the discoveries found in Colorado

    Colorado scientists have retrieved more than 600 Ice Age bones from an area which had once been an ancient mountain lake.
    Colorado scientists have retrieved more than 600 Ice Age bones from an area which had once been an ancient mountain lake.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Shelley Schlender

    Colorado has a long history of remarkable fossil finds. In the last few months alone, scientists have made exciting new discoveries, including the footprints of a running baby apatosaur.

    Last year, a construction crew using heavy machinery to expand a local reservoir discovered the bones of Ice Age animals dating back 50,000 to 150,000 years. The muddy area near Colorado’s Snowmass ski resort had once been an ancient mountain lake.

    Mammoth find

    "They saw some ribs pop up over the big blade of the D-6 bulldozer. They knew right away that they had something different. It didn’t look like a cow but they didn’t know what it was. They picked it up and took it home and on the internet that night, they looked up what a mammoth looked like. And the next day they called us," said Ian Miller, curator of Paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "We have mammoths and mastodons, a giant ground sloth, Ice Age bison, deer, beavers, and a tiger salamander."

    Museum researchers are now hard at work cleaning and examining the bones. While the big machines did crack some of the bones, Miller isn't upset.

    "You’ve got to dig to find the fossils, and if you don’t go out and dig, you’re not going to go out and find anything," he said.

    Once key concentrations of bones had been identified, the construction crew shifted to other areas, while researchers used shovels, hand picks, and sometimes their fingers to clear mud and peat away from the Ice Age bones.

    Excitement ran high for paleontologists like Greg McDonald. "I’m hoping there’s some more sloth bones," he said, "because given the preservation, I think we’ve got the possibility of retrieving DNA from it."

    By the time winter snows had shut down work in mid-November, scientists had retrieved more than 600 bones. In addition to recovering bones quickly and safely, the museum made sure the excavation did not slow down the reservoir construction project.

    "We really worked hard to work closely with that contractor and keep them on schedule," said Miller, "but still get the treasures of Colorado out of these sites and into the museum."

    Using precise drills, employees at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science clean the Ice Age fossil finds.
    Using precise drills, employees at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science clean the Ice Age fossil finds.

    State of discovery

    Efforts like these have paid off many times in the past, so the Denver Science Museum now boasts some of the world’s finest fossils. They include Ice Age animals and Colorado’s official state dinosaur, the stegosaurus. One giant exhibit room is just large enough to hold the complete skeleton of one of the largest animals that ever walked on earth - the long-necked, long-tailed Diploducus, from the plant-eating sauropod family of dinosaurs. It’s fitting to have one at this museum, because in 1877, a fossil hunter found the world’s first sauropod bones in Colorado.

    Since then, the discoveries haven't stopped. One of the newest on display at a small museum in the town of Morrison is a waist-high hunk of sandstone showing indentations from over 150 million years ago. They’re the coffee-mug sized tracks of a baby Apatosaur, another sauropod. These giants have usually been depicted as lumbering and clumsy. But the fossilized tracks indicate that the baby was balanced on its back legs, running.

    Sometimes the finds are made by experts searching for fossil treasures. But many - like the Ice Age find - happen by accident, and often with the help of heavy machines.

    In 1938, construction crews slicing through hills to build a highway exposed rock slabs covered with dinosaur tracks. Those finds led to the creation of the Dinosaur Ridge Museum. Just last year the museum’s tour bus driver decided to do a little fossil-hunting himself and found a site criss-crossed with ancient crocodile tracks.

    "It’s one of the best crocodile sites in the world," says Joe Temple, director of the museum's Visitor Center."That bus driver has his name on an article in a scientific publication, and he’s training to become a school teacher, and he’ll remember that forever."

    Temple says that anyone can be a fossil hunter. "You just need to have a set of fresh eyes and know a little bit about what you’re looking for," he said.

    As for that mammoth find up in Snowmass, Miller says paleontologists will spend the rest of the winter in the museum’s science labs, cleaning and preserving the bones. But once the snow melts, probably in May, they’ll be back at the site, hoping to uncover more relics of Colorado’s ancient past.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora