Toothbrush clears away 90 million years |

Toothbrush clears away 90 million years

John Colson
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesMike Gordon and his mother, Jessica Bramson, put together the fossilized bones of a plesiosaur he discovered near Aspen last year.

ASPEN ” A lucky glance at the ground has put local college student Mike Gordon in the paleontological spotlight, as it were, and may result in a major excavation to unearth a relatively rare specimen of ancient marine life.

A museum in Denver may send a team to assess whether Gordon has discovered something that could significantly add to the body of knowledge concerning life as it was in the Roaring Fork Valley region back in the time of the dinosaurs.

And a private company that digs up dinosaur bones for collectors and museums also may get involved.

Gordon, who lives in Old Snowmass, and another resident, Jackson Davis ” two 20-something friends with some time on their hands last year ” were out hunting prairie dogs one spring day in 2006 when Gordon spied a line of blue stones embedded in the ground.

Davis, as Gordon likes to joke today, is color blind for blue and couldn’t see what his buddy was fussing about, as Gordon excitedly dug a few of the stones out of the ground and pocketed them for future investigation.

“I thought it was petrified wood,” said Gordon a year later, as he proudly displayed a small storehouse of bones that experts have told him are around 90 million years old, relics of a time when an inland sea covered much of the Rocky Mountain region.

The experts at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the University of Wyoming Geological Museum told him that he’d found remnants of a seagoing reptile of the plesiosaur family, carnivores that plied the inland seas of central North America in the Cretaceous Period.

Since then Gordon, 21, a college senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Northern Colorado, and his mom, Jessica Bramson, have busily dug out the dirt around the fossilized skeleton, exposing everything they felt they could safely expose without damaging the find. They have shared their find, and some of the work, with a “very few friends” to keep the location secret.

Gordon estimates the skeleton to be “about the size of an SUV,” and is hoping ultimately to find the creature’s head farther into the hillside. He said they have dug “about four feet down so far … in spots.”

He said experts told him “we actually did a damned good job” digging with a small spoon and using a toothbrush to clear away the dirt and gravel. But, he said, they are “looking for a team” from a university or some other institution to take over the dig and finish it professionally.

So far, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has shown some interest, Gordon said, as has Triebold Paleontology, Inc. of Woodland Park, Colo.

Dr. Alan Keimig, a retired dentist now volunteering as the “fossil posse” for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said this week he is looking into Gordon’s find and may send a team out to assess the site for possible further excavation.

“I don’t have anyone picked yet,” Keimig said. But he has put in a call to Gordon to learn more about the status of the find.

Triebold Paleontology did not respond to calls for comment on this story, but Gordon said he has been contacted by the company.

In the meantime, Gordon said this week, “I’ve quit.” He said the work that he and his mother have done together is about all they believe they can safely do.

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