An Ice Age adventure

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Tammy Kranz
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The words “mastodon” and “mammoth” became part of Denver’s vernacular after the discovery of Ice Age fossils at Snow Mass in 2010.

Crews from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science found more than 6,000 bones of 41 kinds of animals, including mammoths, mastodons, camels and giant bison.

“Since the discovery in 2010, the Denver community has fallen in love with the Ice Age,” said Samantha Richardsan educator at the museum.

Now visitors to the museum can view some of the discoveries from the site as part of the Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age exhibit, showing through May 27.

The exhibit was created by The Field Museum in Chicago, but DMNS added its own personal touches, including a section called Colorado’s Ice Age, where more than two dozen specimens are displayed.

The discovery at Snow Mass garnered international attention because, said DMNS curator of vertebrate paleontology Joseph Sertich, “it’s the best high altitude ice age site in the world. Snow Mass is unique that it allows you to look at 90,000 years of time, it’s not just a snapshot.”

Sertich played a key role in the Snow Mass project, and said, “It’s nice now that a year and a half (later) we can present some of the preliminary findings.”

Some of the fossils unearthed from the dig are on display for the first time — including a mastodon humerus that was chewed on by a bear — and the exhibit gives details about the discoveries and the science emerging from the site.

There is also a work station set up in the exhibit where museum volunteers are cleaning elephant fossils from another dig site in Colorado.

“People are fascinated by the process of science and what paleontologists do,” Richards said, saying the work station is a great opportunity for them to see how fossils are taken from the field and then cleaned to prepare for museum exhibits.

Other highlights of the museum include four life-size models of Ice Age animals, including a Columbian mammoth, standing at 14 feet at the shoulder, which is one of the largest mammals to ever walked in North America.

As far as the overall experience, Richards said she hopes people “connect to the prehistoric past of Colorado — what the environment used to be like.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum is showing the 45-minute IMAX film, “Titans of the Ice Age 3D,” through May 30. Computer-generated imagery and the 3D aspect puts the viewer up close and personal with how saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths and other beasts migrated across the continents, adapted to the climate and offers theories on how they died out.