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Denver Fossils


DENVER - In the Denver area, you never know where fossil treasures will be
found next.

During July and August, construction workers working in the city struck struck
pay dirt when they discovered the tusk and rib bone of a mammoth, an extinct
relative of the elephant.

Jim Henry of Melody Homes, developer of the project where the fossils were
discovered, called the Denver Museum of Natural History, whose crews of amateur
and professional paleontologists dug up the bones in two days. The bones were
taken to the museum, the tusk in a plaster jacket cast that weighed about 500
pounds and was about 8 feet long. The mammoth has been named the Melody Mammoth.

Each year, construction work reveals more fossils. Paleontologists like to see
new excavations where the potential exists to discover the next mother lode.

In the past five years, a Tyrannosaurus rex from Littleton, a dinosaur bone from
Coors Field and fossil palm leaves from Denver International Airport have been
discovered because construction was under way. Excavations in the past for
Chatfield Reservoir, downtown Denver sewer and pipe systems and new home sites
have brought specimens of horses, camels and pecaries into the fossil
collections of Denver.

Most fossil discoveries around the world are made in areas where rocks are
exposed in badland topography. Such areas did once exist in Denver, but
buildings, streets, playgrounds and back yards all provide a human veneer on the

Perhaps the most famous fossil discovered in the Denver area was the first
specimen of a triceratops dinosaur, which was found in a creek bank in the late
1880s. Part of the horn cores of the triceratops were discovered and then
described by O.C. Marsh of Yale University.

In recent years, badlands exposures near Golden, Colo., provided a nearly
complete skull of one of the first mammals that lived after the dinosaurs became
extinct, sheeplike creature called baiaconodon. Discovered by Jeremy Hooker of
the Natural History Museum in London on a field trip, this rare fossil will be
part of the new Prehistoric Journey fossil exhibit that will open in October

A wealth of fossils must exist below our developed land, and it is only through
the cooperation of land owners and construction workers that we can learn more
about the ancient past of our area through the discovery of fossils.

The museum's excavation crews for fossils have never held up any construction.
If you make a discovery, amateur and professional paleontologists are waiting to
see what you've found. Who knows? The speciman you find may be something new to
our area, rewriting the pages of Earth history.

Richard K. Stucky is curator of paleontology at the Denver Museum of Natural
History, where Prehistoric Journey, a look at life on Earth for the past 3.5
billion years, will open in October 1995. Questions and comments may be sent to
the Prehistoric Journal, Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd.,
Denver 80205.

(Richard K. Stucky is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.)