Archive for June 1st, 2009

Why is the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site important?

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Often times at the Museum I hear the question, “So what’s so important about Lindenmeier?” It’s a valid question. It’s been almost 70 years since any extensive excavations occurred there. You’d think that other archaeological investigations at other sites in the last few decades would have filled the gaps in our knowledge about Paleoindians, to the point of making Lindenmeier’s discoveries obsolete. Point in fact, Lindenmeier is still the place where many of those knowledge gaps might be filled, someday in the distant future. But to me, that isn’t why Lindenmeier is special.

First, let’s consider that this was a gathering place for human beings over 10, 000 years ago. Ten. Thousand. Years. Five times longer than the time since Christ!  If you spent a million dollars a day since Paleoindians occupied Lindenmeier, you would have just enough ($3.65 trillion) to cover the stimulus package (not accounting for inflation), just to put that into a meaningful analogy for our times. If the age is not enough to amaze you, consider that to date archaeologists have identified only about 100 places in ALL OF NORTH AMERICA that are this old and contain the same type of projectile point, known as the Folsom point, as discovered at Lindenmeier.

But maybe those facts don’t move you … maybe 100 sites sounds like a lot to you. Would it matter to know that of those 100 sites, most are about the size of half a basketball court?¹ The 100 known Folsom sites take up about .000000001% of the land in North America. In layman terms, that means Folsom complex sites are few and far between. And lucky you, if you live in Fort Collins, one lies practically in your own backyard.

So we’ve established that Folsom Paleoindian sites are special because they are very rare and pretty small. And yet Lindenmeier is still even more special than those other 99 North American sites for several reasons. First, it is significantly larger than the “typical” Folsom complex site, spreading about a ½ mile across the landscape (at least, what’s known of the site). Second, Lindenmeier is considered a winter-season living site for the Paleoindians. The other sites are mostly bison kill and butchering sites. Finally, very few, if any, of those other Folsom complex sites have preserved the diversity of artifacts that Lindenmeier yielded, likely because it was a seasonal home, not a one-time bison processing site. Artifacts preserved at Lindenmeier includes etched bone; bone needles with delicate eyes; shell and bone beads; scrapers, gravers, awls and drills of stone and bone; red ochre; and the list goes on.

Because of this diversity of artifacts, Lindenmeier humanized the Paleoindians, opening archaeologists up to much more progressive thinking about these ancient people. At the time of the discoveries, the 1930s, most artists working for the media let their imaginations run wild with caveman stereotypes: can you say “Ugh!”? My favorite artist’s rendering of a Paleoindian is that of a half-naked, wild-eyed “Folsom woman” wearing only a shaggy, bison fur bikini bottom.  Come on, folks! The people of Lindenmeier had fine bone needles, enormous hides from the giant extinct bison, Bison antiquus, and lived during the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age. Potential cultural differences in modesty and acclimation to the weather aside, I really believe the Paleoindians tailored themselves some pretty amazing clothes and shoes. I think the effort that goes into making a bone needle warrants some snazzy outfits. I know this for a fact because as an undergraduate archaeology student I tried making a needle by filing a bone fragment down to a point against a slab of sandstone. I’m still not done with it.

Cast of a Folsom-era bone needle

Cast of a Folsom-era bone needle

The infamous bison fur bikini graces this harried Folsom woman

The infamous bison fur bikini graces this harried Folsom woman

Lindenmeier is still important. And beginning this weekend, with the grand opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, you can see the Lindenmeier Site for yourself — it’s worth the journey to see this place and imagine the hundreds of generations of people who lived on its landscape.

¹Jason LaBelle, Colorado State University archaeologist, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area Oral History Project interview, September 20, 2006.

A view of the Lindenmeier arroyo, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, Colorado

A view of the Lindenmeier arroyo, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, Colorado

June 2009

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