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Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado’s Most Endangered Places

Every February, Colorado Preservation Inc. (CPI) releases their annual list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places. The program brings awareness to historic buildings, landscapes, or archaeological sites around Colorado that are in danger of demolition, neglect, modification, or development. This year’s endangered places, highlighting the history of southern Colorado, are:

  • Adobe Potato Cellars of the San Luis Valley (Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties)
  • Hose Company No. 3 Fire Museum (Pueblo County)
  • Iglesia De San Antonio-Tiffany Catholic Church (La Plata County)
  • McIntire Ranch and Mansion (Conejos County)
  • R&R Market (Costilla County)

The Culebra River Villages of Costilla County, Colorado, a Colorado Historical Society publication available from our library, mentions the history of the adobe potato cellars:

An important consideration involved storage. When Anglo growers first marketed potatoes they stored surpluses above ground in circular wire-frames encased with hay or in straw-covered trenches. However, the Rio Culebra farmers preferred to store potatoes in a large, underground cellars, or soterranos. Because Hispano[s] used earth, not sod, for walls, their structures maintain an even temperature that kept potatoes from freezing. Hispano subterranean structures were so efficient and cheap to fabricate that Anglo farmers throughout the San Luis Valley adopted double-wall adobe construction for their above-ground storage facilities.

Adobe potato cellars in Rio Grande County, Colorado, circa 1939. Courtesy Library of Congress.

A second Historical Society publication offers information about Conejos County’s McIntire Ranch. An Archaeological Inventory in the Pike’s Stockade Area, Conejos County, Colorado discusses the ranch site‘s historical and archaeological resources, including what remains of the large adobe ranch house. The ranch belonged to Albert McIntire, governor of Colorado from 1895 to 1897. You can read about adobe construction in Adobe as a Building Material for the Plains and Adobe Brick for Farm Buildings, two early-twentieth-century publications from the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station.

To learn more about historic preservation and its impact on Colorado communities, see Preservation for a Changing Colorado, a 2017 publication of CPI and History Colorado. Search our library’s online catalog for more Colorado history resources.

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Time Machine Tuesday: Native American Rock Art

Petroglyphs in Mesa Verde National Park.

If you are exploring the rural areas of western Colorado you may see some examples of rock art created by prehistoric cultures.  According to the Colorado Historical Society’s 1984 publication Northwest Colorado Prehistoric Context,  “rock art sites are of two types: pictograph and petroglyphs.  Rock art panels can range in size from a small single figure or motif to very large panels consisting of dozens of figures. Both pictographs and petroglyphs can be found on the same panel. Representations can range from realistic to highly stylized.” Pictographs are painted onto stone using natural pigments; usually they only survive in caves or other areas where they are protected from the elements. Petroglyphs, on the other hand, are scratched or carved into the stone.

One of the most famous collections of rock art in Colorado is the Shavano Valley near Montrose, which was inhabited as early as 1000 BC. The site features twenty-six panels of prehistoric rock art. Shavano Valley was inhabited by Ute Indians until about 1900 so it contains some more recent examples of rock art as well, along with many other archaeological finds from nearly three thousand years of habitation.

Another site with many examples of rock art is Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado.  In 1964-65 a team from the University of Colorado conducted a major archaeological excavation on the site, which spanned the Colorado-Utah border.  Their report, published by the University in 1970, is available to read online.

Rock art has also been found in the San Juans.  In 1922, a team of archaeologists excavated there and reported their findings in “Further Archaeological Research in the Northeastern San Juan Basin of Colorado, During the Summer of 1922,” a two-part series in v.1, n.1 and v.1, n.2 of the Colorado Historical Society’s Colorado Magazine, now available online.  

Conejos County in southwestern Colorado also has examples of petroglyphs.  See the Colorado Historical Society’s An Archaeological Inventory in the Pike’s Stockade Area, Conejos County, Colorado (2007) for information on some of the rock art discovered in this region. See also the Colorado Historical Society’s Southwest Colorado Prehistoric Context publication.

A few isolated examples of rock art have also been found on the other side of the state, in southeastern Colorado. A 1930 archaeological survey of this part of the state “found only some thirteen sites with petroglyphs, as in most of the territory explored, fields, prairie, sand dunes, etc., there was no means for the Indians to produce pictographs on rocks.” An article on their findings can be found in the January 1931 issue of Colorado Magazine.

For general information on Native American rock art in Colorado, including the methods archaeologists use to classify the art by cultures and periods, see the Colorado Encyclopedia’s article Rock Art of Colorado.”  For a historical perspective on Colorado’s earliest peoples see the chapter “Ancient Inhabitants” in the Colorado Historical Society’s 1927 History of Colorado, which has been digitized by our library.  Our collection also contains some helpful resources available for checkout in hard copy, including

  • Archaeological Survey Along State Highway 139, Loma to Douglas Pass, published in 1986 by the Colorado Department of Highways, which contains an article about rock art.
  • In the Shadow of the Rocks: Archaeology of the Chimney Rock District in Southern Colorado (University Press of Colorado, 1993).
  • A Profile of the Cultural Resources of Colorado (Colorado Historical Society, 1996)
  • Colorado Plateau Country Historic Context (Colorado Historical Society, 1984)
  • Dinosaur National Monument Multiple Property Listing (Colorado Historical Society, 1986)
  • The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History (University Press of Colorado, 1996)
  • The Anasazi of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners (University Press of Colorado, 1996)

Want to see some rock art?  Many archaeological sites are not publicized in order to protect the artifacts; however, there are some places you can go to see rock art including Mesa Verde; the Canyon Pintado Rock Art Historic District near Rangely; and Vogel Canyon Petroglyphs near La Junta.  For information on these and other locations see History Colorado’s Public Archaeology list.

Finally, if you are an archaeologist, or if you are a landowner with rock art on your property, be sure and read Recording and Caring for Rock Art from the Colorado Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia

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Colorado State Publications Blog

The Dent Archaeological Site

Near Milliken, Colorado is the Dent Site, one of Colorado’s oldest and most significant archaeological sites.  It was discovered in 1932 by a railroad foreman, who spotted some very large bones sticking out of the mud near the railroad tracks.  Construction of the tracks, combined with heavy spring rains, had exposed a site that had been covered since the last ice age.

After the discovery of the site in 1932, Professor Conrad Bilgery of Regis University and curator Jesse Figgins of the Denver Museum of Natural History studied the bones and determined them to be the skeletons of ice age mammoths.  They uncovered five adult female mammoth skeletons along with eight young mammoths. But the most important information yielded at the site was not about mammoths, but about people. Found nearby the mammoths were two Clovis spear points.  These spears were used by people now known as belonging to the Clovis culture, which existing approximately 12,000 years ago. The mammoth bones also showed marks consistent with having been butchered, showing that mammoth was an important part of these early peoples’ diets.

Research at the site resumed in the 1970s through the early 2000s, when new techniques such as radiocarbon dating were used.  Since its discovery, the Dent Site has offered fascinating information on the diets and hunting techniques of some of North America’s earliest human inhabitants, as well as on long-extinct animal species.

The artifacts uncovered at the Dent Site are now part of the collections of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (formerly the Denver Natural History Museum).  They along with the University Press of Colorado published a book, Crossroads of Culture, about the museum’s anthropology collections. A copy of this book can be checked out from our library.  Here you will find more on the story of the Dent Site discovery along with photos of the site in 1932 and of the Clovis points that were discovered there.

Another resource available from our library is Frontiers in Paleoindian Archaeology:  From the Dent Site to the Rocky Mountains, also a publication of the University Press of Colorado. 

Finally, for many more resources on archaeology and paleontology in Colorado, search our library’s online catalog or see this list of archaeology publications from History Colorado.

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Mesa Verde

The ruins at Mesa Verde were home to ancestral Puebloans (or Anasazi) from A.D. 600 to 1300; it is today a National Park, protecting the approximately 600 cliff dwellings along with thousands of artifacts and archaeological sites. 

The November/December issue of Colorado Heritage, which you can check out from our library, features Mesa Verde.  One article highlights the early archaeological collections at the History Colorado museum.  Archaeological sites are protected today, unlike a century ago, when explorers and fortune hunters collected artifacts to sell or give to museums.  The article highlights the history of the museum’s archaeological collections as well as society’s changing attitudes toward the removal of artifacts and repatriation.

A second article examines how the ancestral Puebloans lived.  They had a thriving agricultural society, in which they cultivated beans, corn, and squash; they even kept domesticated turkeys.  They were accomplished in pottery and weaving, and built homes that have stood for more than half a millennium.  Yet they abandoned their cliff dwellings — most likely, the article explains, due to severe drought that has been documented as occurring in the late thirteenth century, about the time the ancestral Puebloans disappeared from Mesa Verde.  Their ancestors are today’s Pueblo people.

You can read more about Mesa Verde in two books available from our library, Mesa Verde National Park:  Shadows of the Centuries and The Anasazi of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners, or check out the Park’s website.

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Tremont House Hotel

When many people think of archaeology, they think of digging up items hundreds or thousands of years old, like arrowheads or pottery. But archaeology also looks into the lifeways of the more recent past. (Known as historical archaeology). One very interesting example is the Tremont House Hotel. This territorial-era inn was located on Blake Street near present-day Auraria Parkway in lower Downtown Denver. It was destroyed in 1912 following that year’s Cherry Creek flood, when the building was condemned as uninhabitable. In the early 1990s, the site was excavated and the foundations of the old hotel were discovered. A major archaeological dig revealed many fascinating clues to how Coloradans lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Trash was buried on site, so archaeologists were able to find out what people ate (many fish and chicken bones were found), how they groomed (toothbrushes and other personal items were located), what kind of china they served on, and much, much more. The items not only tell of what kinds of things were used at the time, but also told the story of the hotel’s decline from luxury hotel to flop house – this was revealed by the much more elaborate, expensive china dating from the hotel’s early years, to the cheaper, mass produced and institutional-type dishes of the early 1900s. You can read a fascinating account of the dig and the hundreds of items discovered there in three state publications available from our library: Exploring the Colorado Frontier: A Study in Historical Archaeology at the Tremont House Hotel, Lower Downtown Denver and The Tremont House: Historical Archaeological Investigations of an Early Hotel in Denver, Colorado, both from the Colorado Dept. of Transportation; and Denver: An Archaeological History, from University Press of Colorado. The latter publication also explores other interesting archaeological investigations, including Denver’s Four-Mile House, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and paleo-Indian sites.

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Denver: An Archaeological History

Ever wonder what was here before it was Denver? Find out in the book Denver: An Archaeological History (University Press of Colorado, 2008), available from our library. The publisher describes the book as follows: “For at least 10,000 years, [what is now] Greater Denver has been a collection of diverse lifeways and survival strategies, a crossroads of interaction, and a locus of cultural coexistence. Setting the scene with detailed descriptions of the natural environment, summaries of prehistoric sites, and archaeologists’ knowledge of Denver’s early inhabitants, [the book] bring[s] the region’s history to life. From prehistory to the present, this is a compelling narrative of Denver’s cultural heritage.” Check out our web catalog for other materials on archaeology and Denver history.

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Archaeology

If you think archaeology is just for places like ancient Egypt, think again – Colorado is full of archaeological treasures and resources.

There are two types of archaeology – prehistoric and historic. Prehistoric archaeology deals with ancient civilizations, while historical archaeology deals with looking for clues to more recent events, at places such as battlefields or even under the former outhouses of old buildings. The Colorado Historical Society, in excavating the site of their new museum currently being constructed, conducted an archaeological excavation that turned up many clues to the people that lived in homes formerly on the site, even down to old childrens’ toys. Since most sites in downtown Denver have had as many as four or five different buildings on the same site in the last 150 years, there are many layers of artifacts to be found.

Not only the historical society, but also the Colorado Department of Transportation, play an important role in the State’s oversight of Colorado’s archaeological resources, both prehistoric and historic. CDOT’s reports on their archaeological excavations are available from our library. The state also makes sure that most prehistoric archaeological sites are not publicized, so that ancient items in places such as the Four Corners region, with its Puebloan heritage, can stay in tact. It is important to remember that you can be prosecuted for theft if you remove artifacts from protected state and federal lands.

Recently, our library received several new books from the University Press of Colorado that deal with our state’s archaeology, and what it tells us about the people who came before us. Here are a few of the interesting new titles you can now find in our collection:

Prehistoric:

  • Archaeological Landscapes on the High Plains
  • Frontiers in Colorado Paleoindian Archaeology : From the Dent Site to the Rocky Mountains
  • Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country
  • Ice Age Hunters of the Rockies
  • Late Paleoindian Occupation of the Southern Rocky Mountains : Early Holocene Projectile Points and Land Use in the High Country

Historical:

  • The Archaeology of Class War : The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913-1914
  • Denver : An Archaeological History
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Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado's Native Americans

Colorado has a rich history of Native Americans, including plains tribes like the Arapaho and Cheyenne in eastern Colorado, the mountain Ute tribes in western Colorado, and the Ancestral Puebloan peoples (formerly called Anasazi) down in the four-corners region. Our library has many resources available to those researching the history and archaeology of Colorado’s first residents. Some of the titles in our collection include:

  • Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions
  • The Last War Trail: The Utes and the Settlement of Colorado
  • The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico
  • Colorado Ute Legacy (video)
  • Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and Combat
  • The Anasazi of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners
  • Excavation and Analysis of a Human Burial (5AM1733) Along the 120th Avenue Extension Near Northglenn
  • Twenty-Five Year Report of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs
  • Colorado Directory of American Indian Resources
  • Report of Native American Sacred Lands Forum
  • Archaeological Investigations and Wolf Spider Shelter
  • In the Shadow of the Rocks: Archaeology of the Chimney Rock District in Southern Colorado
  • The Battle of Beecher Island and the Indian War of 1867-1869
  • Archaic Period Architectural Sites in Colorado
  • Prehistoric Paleo-Indian Cultures of the Colorado Plains
  • The Process of Decision-Making in Tribal Courts
  • Indian Water Rights in the West: A Study
  • Cheyenne Texts: An Introduction to Cheyenne Literature
  • Southern Ute Lands, 1848-1899: The Creation of a Reservation
  • The Indians of Colorado
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Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Archaeology

Colorado has a wide variety of archaeological sites, and our library offers many resources on our state’s archaeology, including that of both ancient sites and more recent ones. For example, the Colorado Department of Transportation publishes their findings from archaeological excavations undertaken prior to construction of roads and highways. My favorite is the report on the Tremont House Hotel, one of Denver’s very first hotel buildings in the early 1860s. The building is gone, of course, but excavations on the site found numerous artifacts including dishes, shoes, etc. Other publications in our library discuss archaeology of ancient Native American sites. Some you might not expect — the Colorado Historical Society has put out a booklet on the archaeological sites surrounding Denver International Airport! Here are some other interesting information on Colorado archaeology that you can find in our library:

  • Colorado Cultural Resource Survey Manual: Guidelines for Identification, History, and Archaeology (Colorado Historical Society: 2005)
  • Report of the State Archaeologist to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs (Colorado Historical Society: 1999)
  • Prehistory in Peril: The Best and Worst of Durango Archaeology (University Press of Colorado: 1997)
  • Fort Lewis College Archaeological Investigations in Ridges Basin, Southwest Colorado, 1965-1982 (Fort Lewis College: 1985)
  • Colorado Plains Prehistoric Context for Management of Prehistoric Resources of the Colorado Plains (Colorado Historical Society: 1984)
  • Archaeological Studies of Disaster (University of Colorado at Boulder: 1980)
  • Southwestern Pottery: An Annotated Bibliography and List of Types and Wares (University of Northern Colorado: 1976)
  • Archaeology and Paleontology Publications (online resource from the Colorado Historical Society)

There’s more, as well, so be sure to check our online catalog where you can use “archaeology” as a keyword search.