Denver scientists have been secretly working on a massive fossil cache for years that illuminates the aftermath of the dino-killing asteroid

It was an important find. A PBS documentary about the discovery airs Oct. 30.

A collection of four mammal skulls collected from Corral Bluffs (left to right: Loxolophus, Carsioptychus, Taeniolabis, Eoconodon). (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

A collection of four mammal skulls collected from Corral Bluffs (left to right: Loxolophus, Carsioptychus, Taeniolabis, Eoconodon). (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

KEVIN-lighter

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science announced that its scientists unearthed an “extraordinary collection” of fossils near Colorado Springs — three years ago.

Today, they’re making the discovery public, announcing a PBS documentary and opening a new exhibit at their City Park headquarters that features some of the stuff they’ve dug up.

The cache includes “thousands of exceptionally preserved animal and plant fossils” and dates to the first million years after an asteroid struck the Earth, killed all of the dinosaurs and disrupted ecosystems across the planet. A statement from the museum says the discovery will help scientists better understand how mammals came to dominate those ecosystems in the aftermath.

Maura O’Neal, spokeswoman for the museum, said staying mum on big discoveries like this isn’t uncommon. As is the case for other discoveries, scientists often like to wait until a peer-reviewed paper can be published in an academic journal before they make big announcements. This one appears in this week’s edition of “Science.”

O’Neal said a scientific paper like this would typically take longer than three years to get published.

Also, three years is but a blink of an eye compared to the millions of years these fossils have sat waiting to be unearthed.

The discovery site, Corral Bluffs, is a combination of privately owned land and land owned by the city of Colorado Springs. O’Neal said DMNS researchers have studied the area for decades because it’s on the edges of the K-T Boundary, a layer of rock that scientists believe was created during the asteroid’s impact, but it wasn’t until 2016 that they had the right tools to locate this kind of a motherload.

Dr. Ian Miller (left), curator of paleobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Dr. Tyler Lyson curator of paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science) look for fossil concretions at the Corral Bluffs site. (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

Dr. Ian Miller (left), curator of paleobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Dr. Tyler Lyson curator of paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science) look for fossil concretions at the Corral Bluffs site. (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

CGI rendering of ancient Taeniolabis mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals. (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

CGI rendering of ancient Taeniolabis mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals. (Courtesy: HHMI Tangled Bank Studios)

At least 16 different mammalian species are represented in the new collection. The museum’s press release says the discovery paints a picture of how plant and animal species recovering from the asteroid’s catastrophic impact were “intricately linked.”

In an interview released by the museum, DMNS paleobotanist Ian Miller said the period has long been “shrouded in mystery,” but that veil has now begun to be lifted.

PBS NOVA’s documentary, “Rise of the Mammals,” will air on Oct. 30. The DMNS exhibit, “After the Asteroid: Earth’s Comeback Story,” opens today.

Hi! You’re like us!

Looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the ends of articles! Well, true believer, you might really like our morning newsletter. It’s quick, free and gets you up to speed on the important and delightful things happening right here in Denver.

Thanks for reading another Denverite story

Looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the ends of articles! Well, true believer, you might really like our morning newsletter. It’s quick, free and gets you up to speed on the important and delightful things happening right here in Denver.Does Denverite help you feel more connected to what’s up in your area? Do you want to be a part of it?

Member donations are critical to our continued existence and growth.

Thanks for reading another Denverite story

Does Denverite help you feel more connected to what’s up in your area? Do you want to be a part of it?

Member donations are critical to our continued existence and growth.

You’re our superpower

Denverite supporters have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.

You’re our superpower

Denverite members have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.