Giant Bison Fossil Discovered at Ice Age Dig Site

A team of scientists from the Denver Museum of Science and Nature have announced the discovery of the almost perfectly preserved skull of an extinct species of giant Bison at a dig site nearly 100 miles west of Denver (Colorado).  This discovery is just the latest in a series of important finds made at this location.  The sediments represent the remains of an ancient lake, and the team of American researchers and field workers are collecting a treasure trove of important fossils consisting of a range of prehistoric mammal mega fauna.

Dr. Ian Miller, a curator of palaeontology and the Chairperson of the Earth Science Dept. at the Denver museum, spotted a bison horn core, as it was being uncovered by an excavator.  The horn was so large, that Dr. Miller initially thought that it was the tusk of a Mammoth or Mastodon, as a number of fossils of these prehistoric elephants had already been found at the site in the previous month.

After more of the matrix was carefully removed, a second horn corn was found.  This led the fieldworkers to the spot where the skull was located.  The span of the horns is approaching nearly two metres across, making this prehistoric beastie nearly twice the size of extant bison today.

Chief curator at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, Dr. Kirk Johnson, stated:

“I’m trying to think of a cooler fossil that I’ve seen in my life.  This is the iconic fossil recovered thus far in this excavation.”

The Huge Prehistoric Bison Skull at the Dig Site

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Science and Nature

The horns of this particular species of prehistoric Bison, extend straight out from the head, before curving at the tips, reminiscent of African Water Buffalo.  Fossils of similar sized giant Bison have been found elsewhere in the western United States, in strata ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 years of age.  This suggests that the ancient lake deposits that the scientists are exploring may actually represent sediments laid down much further back in history.  The research team, exploring the deposit had suggested that the fossils found up to date, had been no more than 15,000 years old.  Dr. Johnson commented that if much older fossils were found than previously thought this would make the location, close to Snowmass Village – very significant.

A second Bison skeleton was also discovered over the weekend, this may be juvenile of the same species.  It and the larger specimen have been taken back to the museum, where they can be properly cleaned, subjected to radiocarbon dating to determine their exact age and have a DNA sample taken.

Museum staff and volunteers are racing against time to get the majority of the dig site explored before the worst of the Colorado winter sets in.  So far fossils of ancient deer, Mastodons, Mammoths and the remains of Giant Ground Sloth have been discovered.  The site, now a reservoir but once part of a glacial lake is being renovated and expanded, it was as this work got underway that the first of the prehistoric mammal fossils were found.

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