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Historic Douglas County, Inc. Mission:

The purpose of Historic Douglas County is to expand and enrich public awareness of Douglas County history through education and communication, and through support and coordination among local historical organizations and other related groups.


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History in the Making, Right Here in Highlands Ranch

…by Norman Fox, Board of Directors, Highlands Ranch Historical Society. A very special thanks to Highlands Ranch Historical Society, Norman Fox, Wind Crest Retirement Community and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for this article and the associated photographs.

As some of you are aware, Highlands Ranch has made national headlines recently with the discovery of dinosaur bones on Wind Crest property here in Highlands Ranch. Wind Crest administration (Craig Erickson) is cooperating with the Museum of Nature and Science in developing and excavating the site as a true archaeological site.

The following is excerpted from an article published by the Museum of Nature & Science:

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. ― May 20, 2019
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) is exploring a Highlands Ranch construction site where dinosaur fossils have been uncovered. The fossils were discovered near Wind Crest, …. A limb bone and several ribs from a horned dinosaur were the first fossils uncovered. Work will continue for the next several days to weeks at the secured construction site to determine the size of the bone bed.

“We are so grateful to Wind Crest and Brinkmann Constructors for allowing us the opportunity to evaluate this potentially important scientific find,” said George Sparks, president and CEO of the DMNS.

It’s always exciting to get a call about possible fossils, and I can’t wait to share more details as we continue to dig,” said Dr. Tyler Lyson, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the DMNS “Finds like this, while relatively rare, are a great reminder of how dynamic our planet is and how much more there is out there to discover.”

Lyson studies the evolution of dinosaurs and turtles and is particularly interested in what was occurring in the Rocky Mountain region 66 to 68 million years ago, which is the age of the rock layer where the fossils are embedded.

“On behalf of the residents and employees of Wind Crest, we are thrilled to be part of such an incredible scientific discovery,” said Craig Erickson, executive director of Wind Crest. “We appreciate the invaluable expertise of the DMNS and our partners at Erickson Living and Brinkmann Constructors as we work together on this exciting opportunity for all of us to learn more about our earth’s rich history.”

“This is a remarkable discovery that our team takes great pride in unearthing. We are grateful for the scientific expertise brought to this discovery by the DMNS and Wind Crest’s great generosity in sharing it,” said David Rahm, project director with Brinkmann Constructors.

Since the discovery occurred at an active construction site, Lyson and his team will work closely with Wind Crest and Brinkmann to safely explore the site and document the fossils. Construction will continue while the Museum team works to determine the number and type of fossils.

The story behind the discovery:

Brinkmann, the contractor, was excavating the site area to remove overburden and replace existing earth material with a better compacting material in preparation for constructing a new building in that area. To do this they excavated deep down, and consequently uncovered the find. The find is slightly east of the building site and hopefully will not affect the site itself. If it does, the team is confident that they can find a suitable work around to accomplish both goals.

Interestingly, because the bones are on private property, the owner “owns the bones”. Wind Crest has signed a fossil agreement with the DMNS to donate all the recovered artifacts free to the Museum, a great gesture in my opinion. Fortunately, as Wind Crest residents, we have access to view the site from nearby, but unfortunately, the public does not have access to the site.

The site is a difficult excavation. It was soon discovered they had not only unearthed the bones, but also uncovered flow of water that was interfering with their search. Consequently, sump pumps were installed to control the water and fast and furious work continued. By mid-June all the mined large bones (shown in Triceratops image below) had been transported to the museum and are being cleaned, processed, and examined for species identification while work continued at the site to keep exploring and mining smaller bones.

Behind the continued mining for bones was/is the search for a large piece of the frill, the bony protuberance behind the skull. If this can be found, it will put the bottom line on the identification of the species. Until then they can only come close.

Fast forward to late June. Work at the diggings has slowed considerably, but the frill has not been found. The work going on at the museum on the discovered artifacts has yielded that the find is probably a Triceratops, the more common of the species, but the tiny doubt still remains in the hope that they are wrong, and it is of a much rarer type.

At the last interview with the Chief Fossil Preparer for the Museum Natalie Toth on about June 22, she wasn’t sure whether they would continue the dig and of this writing, July 6, that still appears to be the situation. I have been monitoring the site and it is cleaned up, and water sump system is still intact but have seen no other activity the last several days.

It isn’t often a Historical Society is plunked right in the middle of history being made. The Highlands Ranch Historical Society (HRHS) has set up a photo album on our website: with photographs and links to various other sites to get much more information on the progress and activities on the archaeological site. We will continue to treat this happening as History in the Making until it is Past History.

The End of the Trail

…These End of the Trail following paragraphs were submitted by Norman Fox and added on July 17, 2019 to provide closure to the original story about the archaeological dig.

The trail of the Triceratops ended July 11th with the discovery of a large vertebrae from our bony friend. Digging continued for a few more days until the guideline criteria used by the archeologist said they were finished and should close-up shop.

Tyler Lyson the Denver Museum of Nature and Science curator of vertebrate paleontology said that the criteria for closing the excavation is “…dig one meter around the last unearthed fossil and, if no other fossils are found within that meter, it is unlikely any others will be discovered.”

The rest of the story will unfold over the next several months as workers at the museum meticulously clean, glue and examine the more than 60 pieces (estimated) recovered from the site over the past two months. Tiny grinders, glue, brushes, dental picks, etc. will be used to piece together the 68 million-year old animal and hopefully unearth a story. Those with a continuing interest in the progress and outcome can visit the Denver and observe the Fossil Preparers prepare the artifacts.

This has been an exciting two months in Douglas County and is now one more historical site to add to Highlands Ranch and Douglas County history.

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