Nov 172002
Authors: Patrick Crossland

A recent find gives new life to the old expression, “work is hard on the old bones.”

While digging at Tar Pits Playground Area in Fossil Creek Park in southeast Fort Collins, excavators unearthed the remains of a 100,000-year-old Wooly Mammoth in August.

An equipment operator noticed white globs while digging and immediately stopped and contacted him said Jeff Lakey, a senior park planner for the City of Fort Collins.

“First I checked the state law to see what to do,” Lakey said.

He contacted the state archeologist at the Colorado Historical Society that works in connection with the Denver Museum of Natural History. He was put in contact with CSU professor Larry Todd.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Paul Burnett and 15 practicum students worked with Todd to safely excavate the bones. Equipment operators aided the team in excavation when students needed to dig several layers down.

“(Anthropology) is something I’m interested in,” Lakey said. “It’s been pretty darn exciting.”

Lakey said finding the mammoth bones did not halt construction of the playground.

“Within a day I had this all figured out,” he said.

He rearranged his schedule so construction of the park could continue in alternate areas during the excavation of the mammoth bones. Todd said cooperation from the City made the excavation go smoothly.

“I was truly impressed with the cooperation, interest and flexibility city officials had when we came into the field to do excavation,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Communications Specialist Korrie Johnston said though mammoth bones are not unusual for plains areas such as Fort Collins, finding bones as intact as theses is unique.

“Mammoth bones are not that unusual to find, but to find a full backbone was exciting,” Johnston said.

The team of CSU practicum students had the opportunity to get a hands-on lesson in anthropology and excavation. The team of fifteen students spanned from freshman to graduate students and aided throughout the retrieval of the bones.

“Our students received invaluable hands-on experience,” Todd said.

CSU’s team took casts of the bones and transported them to a lab at CSU. With great care from students, some brittle bones were successfully retrieved for the cast while others proved to be more difficult.

“Some of the big bones came out totally in tact, others were like dust,” Johnston said.

Students will study the bones, doing species identification, research projects and DNA analysis among other things.

According to a news release sent out by the City of Fort Collins Parks and Recreation department, the site where the bones were found was to be the location for a 6-foot high by 26-foot wide climbing apparatus shaped like a wooly mammoth.

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