Scientists in Colorado have unearthed a rare find: fossils dating all the way back to the Ice Age, between 45,000 and 125,000 years ago. Construction workers were excavating a hillside to make a ski area when they discovered hundreds of bones buried under several layers of earth. They called paleontologists at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, who began furiously excavating the site before the first snowstorm of the season hit.
Kirk Johnson, a scientist involved in the excavation, said his team was finding bones at an unprecedented rate - one bone every two to ten minutes. Most of the skeletons they unearthed were completely new species that had never been seen or researched before.
The bones were found at a high elevation, so the fossils are extremely well preserved and provide, as Johnson puts it, "crystal-clear window back into a time for which we knew nothing at all."
Once the first snowstorm of the season hit the Colorado Rockies, the Denver Museum team had to put the excavation on hold until spring. Now, they are working to preserve, photograph and index the bones that will eventually tell them clues about the Ice Age and possible future climate trends.
"There's all kinds of plant and insect and invertebrate fossils at the site as well that really helps us flesh out this ecosystem. And it's rare to get all of that in one place. Normally, we piece those things together from different areas." - Ian Miller, paleontologist
"We know almost nothing about what happened at high elevation during the Ice Age. And that's one of the things that makes this site so cool is that not only is it a high elevation, but there's a fairly large thickness of sediment that has fossils in it. And the fossils are extremely pretty well-preserved. So, it's like a crystal-clear window back into a time for which we knew nothing at all." - Kirk Johnson, chief curator, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
"The world is warming now. So, here you have these animals that survived, or didn't, a warming at high elevation. And one of the things we're concerned about now is, what happens to plants and animals that live at high elevation as the world warms?" - Kirk Johnson, chief curator, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
1. What is a fossil? Why are fossils valuable for scientists?
2. When was the Ice Age? What was the Earth's climate like during it?
3. What is paleontology?
1. How do you think studying these fossils from hundreds of thousands of years ago could tell us about Earth's future?
2. How does elevation affect bone preservation, according to the video? Can you think of other examples of how elevation affects science?
3. How do you think scientists go about piecing together skeletons from individual bones? What information would they need to do that effectively?
4. Do you think paleontology and archaeological research is valuable? Why or why not?