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Colossal fossil comes to Vail

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
ALL |

VAIL, Colorado ” It weighs more than the world’s heaviest Sumo wrestler and is 800,000 times older than Dick Cheney.

Today through Sunday a 14-foot tall fossil will be on display outside Lionshead Jewelers in Vail.

Weighing in at 1,200 pounds and dating back 55 million years, the palm frond fossil is on sale for $200,000.

The Wyoming couple who found the fossil will be on hand to answer questions about their sizable discovery.

Bob and Bonnie Finney from just outside Kemmerer, Wyo., said they found the palm tree leaf in an area of Wyoming known as the Green River Formation. Once a 1,200-square-mile lake surrounded by tropical forest, this swath of land dried up as the Rocky Mountains formed, Bob Finney said. Today the land is a cattle ranch speckled with sagebrush ” and a hotbed of fossils.

Bonnie Finney discovered the giant palm leaf in 2003 during a routine dig in her fossil quarry.

“I just said ‘Oh my God. I think it’s probably one of the biggest palm fronds ever found in the split fish,'” she said.

The split fish is a layer of rock in the Green River Formation where diggers split rocks open to find fossils.

Kirk Johnson, chief curator for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, said the Green River Formation is unique because it is a source of intact palm frond fossils, as opposed to just frond fragments, which are common throughout the American West.

“What’s unusual about that particular site is they get whole ones there,” he said.

Most palm frond fossils are about six to seven feet long ” roughly half the size of the frond at Lionshead Jewelers, he said. Still, Johnson doesn’t think the massive frond is breaking any size records.

“It’s not rare but it is spectacular,” Johnson said.

Perhaps more significant than the palm frond’s size is the message it sends about global warming, he said.

“These palms are really clear evidence that Wyoming was much warmer in the past than it is today. It’s sort of like a telegram from a warmer world, showing you what’s possible under different climate conditions on planet Earth,” he said.

Lionshead Jewelers has been selling fossils in a back room of the store for about seven years.

This weekend marks the first time the store will play host to the fossil hunters themselves.

“When you talk to the fossil diggers, it becomes more personal,” gallery owner Amad Akkad said. “You can see the excitement in their face because this is real.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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