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Ice Age Camel Latest Find At Snowmass Fossil Site

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The fossil discovery in Snowmass Village. (credit: CBS)

The fossil discovery in Snowmass Village. (credit: CBS)

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) – Add the Ice Age camel to the growing list of animals that roamed an area in western Colorado some 50,000 to 150,000 years ago.

“We’ve added a camel to the mix, and we’re just getting started,” said Kirk Johnson, vice president of research and collections and chief curator for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “This just keeps getting better.”

Johnson announced the latest find Tuesday as crews returned to the site near Snowmass Village. He said the 2-inch lower molar of a Camelops was discovered in a pile of peat pulled out of Ziegler Reservoir, where excavation work is under way after a six-month hiatus due to winter weather.

The tooth was found when a construction crew member was sifting through sediment that had been removed last fall to prepare the peat for repurposing.

Excavation began at the site last year after a bulldozer operator uncovered a bone while working on expansion of the reservoir.

To date, scientists have discovered eight to 10 American mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, two Ice Age deer, four Ice Age bison, one Jeffersons ground sloth, one Ice Age camel, many tiger salamanders, as well as evidence of beaver, insects, snails and microscopic crustaceans. reservoir are large quantities of well-preserved wood, seeds, cones, and leaves of sub-alpine white spruce, subalpine fir, sedges, pollen and other plants.

Recent discoveries include a huge mastodon bone.

“Last Friday, while we were trying to clean off the site, I walked into the ice floe area. There were channels of water running underneath the ice,” said Kit Hamby, director of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which owns the land and is working with the museum. “I saw something that looked like a log; I just saw a portion of it. I got in there are pulled it out.”

Johnson said he wasn’t sure if the bone belonged to a mastodon already identified by scientists or was from a new animal, because the project — dubbed The Snowmastodon Project — is like putting pieces of a prehistoric puzzle together one sliver at a time.

“It’s a Flintstones-like endeavor,” said Johnson, describing the discoveries, both large and small, he expects his crews to find in the coming weeks. “It is truly amazing what is happening up here.”

The dig site near Snowmass Village is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s largest fossil excavation project ever, involving 36 scientists, 107 trained volunteers, 35 staff members and nine interns. Crews of more than 40 will work each day for the next seven weeks to sift through more than 3,000 tons of dirt by July 1. Then, the site will be handed back over to the water district and work on the expanded reservoir will be completed.

However, a small excavation crew will remain onsite.

- By Jeanne McGovern, The Aspen Times

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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