Scientists unravel secrets of `ice age graveyard`

The fossil remains were found near a popular mountain ski resort in Colorado in US.

London: Palaeontologists have unearthed what they say is an ice age graveyard where dozens of huge animals including mammoths, mastodons and a giant ground sloth died up to 150,000 years ago.

The fossil remains, found from the bottom of a drained reservoir near a popular mountain ski resort in Colorado in US are thought to be one of the largest collection of animals from the last ice age to be discovered in one place.

Palaeontologists leading the dig have so far found the remains of four Columbian mammoths; 10 American mastodons, a distant relation of the mammoth and elephant; four ice age bison, which were twice the size of modern bison; a species of ice age deer; a Jefferson`s ground sloth and a tiger.

The discovery, they said, has already provided some new insights into the prehistoric environment.

Researchers, including experts at the Royal Holloway University of London, are now attempting to piece together how the animals came to be buried in one place and what the ice age landscape would have looked like at the time.

"It is an amazing site and is very unusual," said Dr Kirk Johnson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science who led the excavation.

"It is a true treasure trove of ice age fossils. Many of the fossils are pristine as they have been very well preserved. Some of the bones we recovered are still white while we are finding leaves that are still green and tree branches with the bark still on," Dr Johnson was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

The first mammoth was discovered at the end of October when a bulldozer struck some of the ice age mammals` bones during work to expand the Ziegler Reservoir, which sits on a plateau at 8,870 feet in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Among the most dramatic fossils to be found during further excavations at the place was the skull of an ice age bison, Bison latifrons, with three foot long horns. Weighing nearly 18 stone, the skull measures almost eight feet across from the tip of each horn when it was pieced together.

They also discovered the remains of trees that bore teeth marks from an ice age beaver. Other bones bore teeth marks, suggesting some of the animals may have been killed by predators, although the palaeontologists have yet to find any remains of predators.

The animals are thought to have lived between 150,000 and 50,000 years ago when much of northern Europe and North America was covered in glaciers from the last ice age.

Dr Johnson said: "We have a large variety of fossils through a long period of time through the ice age. Mammoths and mastodons are hardly ever found together on a single site as they lived in very different environments, so here we must have seen a change in the ecosystem around the lake.

Professor Scott Elias, an expert in fossilised insects at Royal Holloway University of London, said the findings can tell us a lot about the environment as we can find similar species around today and draw conclusions about what it was like."