Highlands Ranch, CO

Digging up the past at Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve

Natasha Lovato

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The excavation and casting of a Columbian mammoth skull at Lamb Spring.Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve

Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver

(Highlands Ranch, Colo.) One of the largest archaeological preserves in Colorado once excavated more than 30 Columbian mammoths, and now the archaeological experience is open to the public. 

Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve was first discovered in 1960 by Charles Lamb. In the process of making his land’s natural spring larger for his livestock, he discovered an unusually large bone. Lamb reached out to the U.S. Geological Society who determined it was the bone of a Columbian mammoth. 

The Smithsonian Institute then excavated the Lamb Spring site and found more Columbian mammoth bones, and other Pleistocene megafauna, such as camel, ground sloth, and horse; determining some bones as old as 15,500 years old.  

Another discovery was an Archaic and Paleo Indians hunting site that included bones and artifacts dating back 10,000 years ago. 

Then, between 1980 - 1981 the Smithsonian further excavated the site and found bones from more than 30 Columbian mammoths, making Lamb Spring the largest concentration of Columbian mammoth bones in the State of Colorado. 

In 1995 the Archaeological Conservancy purchased the site with help from the Smithsonian, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS), Douglas County, and Colorado Historical Society.  

From 2000 - 2002 The University of Colorado Boulder and the DMNS excavated, removed, restored, and cast a juvenile Columbian mammoth skull. The cast currently sits on display at the site and the original skull is stored at the DMNS.

Now, free tours of the preserve are offered to guests of all ages interested in exploring the site.

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A family tours the Lamb Spring site.Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve

Cameron Randolph, a member of the board of directors for Lamb Spring shared that those tours typically start with a presentation over the history of archaeology in the area. Guests will then take a tour of the artifacts shed and receive further demonstrations and explanations.

“There is ongoing research concerning why there was a mass extinction at this site and were humans at this site at the same time as the Columbian mammoth?” Randolph said. 

Randolph also shared that the excavated areas have been backfilled and the discoveries from past excavations are preserved in an anaerobic environment.  

“While a number of discoveries have been made and research continues from what was removed, there are no excavations going on at Lamb Spring at the moment,” he said. 

Guests can sign up for the free tours online. Tours start at 9 a.m. and generally last for a couple hours. 2022 tours are available for sign-up now through October 1.

As for viewing the many discoveries from Lamb Spring, artifacts are on display or archived across the nation at The Smithsonian Institute, the DMNS, the Douglas Repository and at the site as well.

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