|16 July 2011
25,000-year-old bones discovered in Colorado
On March 1, 2011, David Hammel had no idea he would be discovering a major archaeological site of vital interest to the San Luis Valley of Colorado (USA). Hammel was driving a bulldozer at the Noland Gulch Gravel Pit in Saguache County when he unearthed a mammoth vertebra. He immediately stopped the excavation work and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was called in.
Saguache Field Office Manager Andrew Archuleta said that the BLM manages the Noland Gulch Pit but Saguache County has a mineral material permit for the gravel pit. The BLM is committed to protecting any objects or sites of cultural, paleontological or scientific value from damage, destruction, removal, movement or disturbance. This includes the protection of historic or prehistoric sites.
Experts from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science were notified and Dr. Steve Hollen and Dr. Richard Stucky did a preliminary assessment of the site. They brought in a team of students from the Teen Science Scholars program to help. Bones from nine separate species of animals, including two mammoths, a camel, a rodent, two kinds of squirrels, a rabbit and other small to medium sized Late Pleistocene Epoch mammals, as well as two varieties of snails were located in different layers of the alluvial sand in the pit.
"The animals (mammoths and camel) died somewhere else, were left exposed to the elements for six to 20 years, and were then washed down to here," said Archuleta. "Those bones are in a deteriorated condition because of exposure." The discovery of snails was significant because they can only live in narrowly specified conditions and so will provide information on the local environment at the time they were alive.
The team also mapped the geological strata in the gravel pit. Soil analyses are being done that will tell more about the climate at the time the animals were alive. "We already know that there was more grass here and that it was medium to tall," Stucky said. "Mammoths could not eat short grass. The camel sample tested 25,000 to 26,000 years old," he said. "Camels lived all over this nation at that time."
Archuletta other groups are also working on the BLM project. "Adams State College is conducting a geomorphology study, and two ASC students are working to excavate and preserve specimens from the site," he said.
Edited from Alamo News (14 July 2011)
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