Time traveler with a shovel | PostIndependent.com

Time traveler with a shovel

Jeanne McGovernAspen CorrespondentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The discovery of some 600 prehistoric bones and bone fragments at Snowmass Village’s Ziegler Reservoir last fall is nothing to laugh at. But you wouldn’t know it, given the jokes and quips being bandied about the Snowmass Conference Center on Tuesday night.”One rock ruined my life,” laughed Dr. Kirk Johnson, chief curator of the Denver Museum of Science & Nature, referring to a fossilized crab he found in rock at the age of 12. “That was it; I was going to be a paleontologist.”Johnson spoke to a crowd of some 700 people as part of the Aspen Historical Society’s Time Travel Tuesdays series (coincidentally, Johnson refers to his job as being a “time traveler with a shovel”). His talk, titled “Snowmastodon: A Tale of Ice Age Discovery,” offered a crash course in paleontology and scientific digs – “the two questions you ask when you uncover a bone are, ‘What bone of the body is it?’ and ‘Whose body was it?'”He also chronicled the extraordinary discovery of mastodon, mammoth, sloth, bison and other fossils in Snowmass, which will continue to be excavated this summer.”This is no ordinary discovery; this is something very special,” he said, noting that the job of the museum, who has partnered with the Town of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Water and Sanitation on The Snowmastodon Project, is to make discoveries and then bring them to the public. “At the museum, we rebuild ancient landscapes.”The finds at Ziegler Reservoir, and across the American West, provide great fodder for doing just this. “Everywhere you go, anywhere you go, there are fossils to be found,” he told the crowd. “And each one tells a story.”Johnson also used his book, “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway,” to tell a few stories on Tuesday night. But one message seemed particularly poignant. Titled “The Paleontologist’s Friend,” the page of the book depicts a backhoe at a dig site; the tagline reads: “Savvy backhoe drivers save the day.””That’s your Jesse Steele,” Johnson said of the bulldozer driver who unearthed the first bones in Snowmass, drawing a round of applause from the crowd.Continuing, Johnson was quick to point out that the Snowmass dig site and the ensuing Snowmastodon Project is, in fact, nothing to joke about.”So what’s next?” he asked the crowd. “The future of the bones belongs to you. But we all know how important they are, and it seems everyone is as excited about it as we are.”jmcgovern@aspentimes.com

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