Located about 15 miles from Aspen, Colorado, just outside of Snowmass Village, the Ziegler reservoir site is one of the most intriguing Ice Age finds to be discovered in all of North America. The site has yielded a cache of more than 4,800 fossils since a construction worker uncovered the remains of a young Columbian mammoth in October, 2010. Prior to the discovery of dozens of mastodon remains uncovered at the Ziegler site, only two mastodon skeletons had been found in all of Colorado, but there is much more to this story. There is now evidence of humans visiting the site, both in the butchering marks left on bones from stone tools, and large out of place boulders. However the problem lies in the dating, because it would challenge the earliest knowledge of human existence on the continent by 26,000 years or more!
The news of human activity at the site began to trickle out as scientists were pondering the possibility of a meat cache in the NOVA special called the “Ice Age Death Trap” that aired on PBS in February, 2012. Co-leaders of the dig, Drs. Kirk Johnson, Ian Miller and others noticed small boulders where they shouldn’t have been. Several soccer ball-sized stones were found in what was once the middle of the ancient lake. The rocks were next to, above, and below a partial mammoth skeleton, suggesting the presence of Paleo-Indians who used such stones to hide meat caches in ice-bound spots away from predators and to prevent the protein from spoiling. The rocks were out of place geologically with no similar stones found anywhere nearby. Paleontologists have established that early humans were attracted to water holes, just like the animals they hunted, and also used these locations to butcher and then store their prized source of precious protein.
Such a rewriting of history has made the Snowmass dig one of the most controversial debates in the saga of Paleo-Indians in North America. If the evidence holds up to scientific scrutiny, it would appear as if early humans may have used Ziegler as a frozen meat locker during the winter months. Except there is one big problem within the scientific community, and that is humans were not supposed to have been anywhere on the North American continent by that date. Most researchers put North America’s earliest settlement of Paleo-Indians at around 14,000 years ago. Ziegler’s Ice Age finds are estimated to be between 40,000 and 150,000 years old, so even by the most conservative estimates, this places people in central Colorado some 26,000 years before they should have been there. But then who where these earliest arrivals, and from where on Earth did they come from? Each new summer digging season reveals new evidence to these most perplexing questions. Stay tuned!
The Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center is open daily during ski season, from mid-December until mid-April, from 10:00AM until 5:00PM, and in summer season from June 1 to October 1 from 10:00AM to 5:00PM. It is free admission into the center, located on the Snowmass Mall. For more information, call 970.922.2297 M-F, 9AM-4PM or 970.922.2277 daily, 10AM-5PM.