Mammoth puts Snowmass in spotlight

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— A hairy, prehistoric elephant brought the circus to Snowmass Village on Wednesday.

A Snowmass Water and Sanitation board meeting drew a packed crowd to a room at the Snowmass Club, where a selection of bones from a prehistoric mammoth were put on display for curious onlookers. Fascinated kids and adults, a class of schoolchildren, reporters and television news crews filed past the collection of giant, coffee-colored bones, recently unearthed from a reservoir excavation project just west of town.

The board has not yet decided what to do with the remains of the creature; another meeting is scheduled Monday, but the Denver Museum of Nature and Science appears to be the most likely repository for the bones. The museum has offered to handle excavation of the sensitive site, and take the bones to Denver where they can be preserved in a controlled atmosphere. The bones have not been fossilized — turned to stone, in other words — but remain soft and porous, in much the same shape they were in when the mammoth was encased in a peat bog some 10,000-plus years ago.

On Wednesday, Water and San­­­itation employees were spraying the specimens on display with distilled water from time to time to keep them moist. For now, they are being stored in dark plastic and kept damp, in a cool place.

Yet to be determined is whether the animal is a Columbian mammoth or the much rarer woolly mammoth, according to Ian Miller, paleontologist and chairman of the museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

“There are no known woolly mammoths from Colorado yet,” he said.

The museum’s mammoth expert, Steve Holen, is expected to return to Denver from the Yukon on Saturday and then will head to Snowmass Village if the museum takes on the project, Miller said. Holen will be able to determine which type of mammoth it is by examining its teeth and bone structure.

Either way, the discovery of a mammoth is a “significant scientific find,” said Bob Mutaw, cultural resources team leader for URS, the engineering firm involved in the reservoir project.

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