In October 2010, a bulldozer operator working at Ziegler Reservoir in Snowmass Village, Colorado uncovered the tusk of a young female mammoth. Over the next 10 months, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science conducted its largest-ever fossil excavation, uncovering 6,000 bones of 10 large animals and over 30,000 bones from 42 small vertebrate animals. The excavation became the finest alpine Ice Age fossil trove in the world, and the largest discovery of mastodons (35+) in the world. Perhaps most importantly, the discovery provides a window into ancient environments and climate stretching back 140,000 years. This has significantly sharpened the ability to see accurately into the future of mountain environments where shifting climate has already initiated change.
The emerging story, deciphered by four dozen scientists at 20 institutions is one of complete ecosystems populated by forests, grasslands, wildflowers, shrublands, and a diverse cast of animal inhabitants. We know know that the fauna and flora of these ecosystems were challenged by a phenomena where subtle shifts in climate precipitated dramatic, cascading changes in the species of plants and animals that could live at the Snowmass site. Beyond the wonder of seeing ancient ecosystems in detail, the Snowmass discovery provides a clear lens through which to anticipate the future of Snowmass' natural environment and similar places.