Mammoth Madness


Recently, a few people found prehistoric bones up in Snowmass, near Denver! And not just any prehistoric bones, ice age animals!

Recently, a few people found prehistoric bones up in Snowmass, near Denver! And not just any prehistoric bones, ice age animals! They found mammoths, mastodons, bison, deer, a sloth, a salamander, plants and insects! Every one was from the ice age. They think they will be able to get really good DNA from the bones, and be able to learn tons about these animals! I had an interview with the person who was leading the dig, Ian Miller. This is what he said:


JB: How did you find these bones?

IM: We found the bones when a bulldozer driver pushed over the land.


JB: How did you feel when you found them?

IM: We were excited we have been getting more and more excited every day of the dig. The dig finished just a couple of days ago, but for the first week, we were finding new animals every day!


JB: Do you think you will be able to get good DNA from the bones?

IM: We think so, but we don't know the answer to that yet, we're going to do some testing for that in the next couple of months. The site's at high elevation, so it's sort of like a refrigerator up there because it's cold on average during the year, and that's very good for preserving the DNA. So we don't know yet, but we're hopeful that we'll get DNA out of these bones.


JB: Are the mammoth bones pretty similar to elephant's bones?

IM: They are, so mammoths and elephants are cousins very closely related but mastodons are not very closely related to elephants and mammoths. So we found 12 mastodons and mammoths and mammoths are close cousins to elephants. Mastodons are distant cousins.


JB: Are mammoths and mastodons related?

IM: They are but they are distant cousins. So by that I mean that mammoths and elephants are very close on their family tree mastodons are also on that family tree branches, but it's a long ways away.


JB: Have you ever found these kinds of bones before?

IM: Yeah there are some things like this in North America so there's one right up in South Dakota called Hot Springs, SD, and LA County there's a lot of sites back east, but what's so special about this site is that it's at such high elevation, and it's in CO. So that makes it extremely special, simply because we just don't have stuff like this in CO. We don't have stuff at high elevations.


JB: Is there anything you would like to find?

IM: Well, yeah were hoping to find a good representation of a whole bunch of different ice age fossils. And we've already found an unbelievable amount of ice age fossils, but my guess is we're going to find more. One thing that would be really, really cool to find is a carnivore. We've only found plant eaters. So every fossil we have so far is a plant eater, but we haven't found any other bones yet. So I'm hoping we'll find a carnivore next time we get out there.


JB: Are these bones all from the same time period?

IM: They are from a little bit different time periods so what it is, is it's just a lake that filled slowly with sand and mud and there are some animals that are at the bottom of the lake. It takes thousands and thousands of years for a lake to fill up with sand and mud and there are some animals at the top of the lake. So we know that there are some animals at slightly different time periods.


JB: Why do you think you found all of these bones in the same place?

IM: Well that's a very good question. Really what happens is that animals die all the time on the landscape. So you're out hiking in the woods and you'll find like a deer that's died or something like that, and scavengers come and tear it apart, eat all of the pieces, and then the bones get consumed or worn away. But if you're fortunate, or unfortunate, and you come by a lake and you walk onto the ice on the lake and you fall through, you end up in the lake, and that's a very good place to get preserved.


JB: How are the plants you found different from the ones now?

IM: Well they're very similar to the plants now, except that it was colder back then. The plants have moved north. They liked to live in colder climates. Some of them live in CO still but other ones live further north now. There are very few extinct plants, from that time period, but most of the plants live today. But there are different groupings of plants. There are different plants living with other plants and you wouldn't expect to see that grouping of plants today. So it's what we would call a different flora.


JB: Do you expect to find more bones in this site?

IM: We will find lots more. So when we go up there and dig we'll find tons more. We only dug for 2 weeks, and we're planning to dig for 6 weeks when we get back in the spring. And we dug at a very, very small portion of that whole place, the ancient lake. We maybe have dug 10 percent of it, so we have 90 percent that is left undug and I'm sure it's packed with animals


JB: Could you tell how these animals died?

IM: We don't know that yet. That's one of the things we'll be studying to try to figure out. So it's a question that we asked is how these animals died, when they died, how old were they when they died, and we can learn that by looking at how the bones were laid out in the sand and mud. We can learn how old they are, by looking at their tusks. We can look at their teeth to tell how worn they are. When we do that, we can also tell what season of the year they died.


JB: What do you expect to learn in the next few months?

IM: We will learn something about some of the circumstances of death. What the plant life was like, we can learn what species they are, and we will learn whether they have good DNA still because sometimes it gets degraded away. But we're hopeful that it stayed because it's so cold, it might have gotten better preserved.


JB: Do you think there will be a movie about this?

IM: That is one of the things we want to do at the museum.


Ian also told me a little extra about the bones in the site. They have 15 tusks. They haven't found complete animals, just a lot of their bones. The plant life is still green, and they found some insects and they still have color! He also gave me an animal count; 8-10 mastodons, 4 mammoths, 4 bison, 2 deer, 1 sloth, 1 salamander.


I hope you got exited from this article, because all of the bones go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science! It won't come for a while, but some time, you can come there and see all of the bones! If you want to get updated on all of the news go to !