We still learn from Lindenmeier

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

(Ed. note: why all the talk about Lindenmeier this week? We’re celebrating the opening this Saturday of the City of Fort Collins’ newest natural area, Soapstone Prairie, in which the Lindenmeier site is located. It’s the first chance in a very long time for people to see this place, and a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the lengthy heritage of people in northern Colorado. If you’re a real Folsom fan, join us at the Museum at 5:00 this Friday for a  demonstration by flint knapper extraordinaire Bob Patten.)

Many people want to know when new excavations will happen at Lindenmeier. At this point, none are anticipated, but the exciting thing about archaeology is that improvements in technology as well as the recognition of biases in earlier studies mean archaeologists can still learn about a site even without new excavations. This is important because archaeological sites are non-renewable resources. Once they are excavated, they are gone. New technology and new techniques will increase the evidence and information gleaned at a site but only if portions of the site remain to be investigated later. In many ways, the best thing we can do for the Lindenmeier Site is preserve it so that future generations of archaeologists with technologies we can’t even imagine can study it, perhaps in ways that don’t destroy the site in the process.  The bummer for us living now is, as one archaeologist who worked at Lindenmeier as a young man said, “we can’t live long enough to see how some of this turns out.” That archaeologist was Dr. John L. Cotter, who passed away in 1999.

Some of the things archaeologists can do with artifacts already excavated from Lindenmeier include use-wear analysis and trace element analysis. Researchers can identify through microscopes whether marks left on stone tools were caused by bone or other stone, or conversely, marks left on bone were caused by stone or other bones (like teeth leaving marks). This can indicate if animals were butchered by people or gnawed by animals. I’m anxiously waiting for an archaeologist to perform a use-wear analysis on the eyes of Paleoindian bone needles to determine wear marks caused by fiber thread versus sinew. Archaeologists performing trace-element analysis can find microscopic residues of everything from plant material to blood on stone and bone tools. Archaeologists also do a lot of experimentation, attempting to make and use tools comparable to those uncovered during excavations. This is called experimental archaeology and can be used to answer questions that straight excavation cannot. For example, some archaeology students at CSU made their own stone tools and butchered a bison with them to learn more about the hide and meat processing methods that Paleoindians might have practiced.

Other important work for archaeologists is the re-interpretation of ideas formed in previous decades by earlier generations of archaeologists. We all have biases and sometimes it is only the passage of time that brings them to light. For example, most Paleoindian sites are bison kill and butchering sites. George Frison, an emeritus archaeology professor from Wyoming, once said that archaeologists have been “charmed” by the bone beds of the giant bison. This is partly because massive bison bones survive in the archaeological record, whereas small bones and other organic remains (hides, plant fiber baskets, wood) do not. Archaeologists became focused on developing theories of bison hunting by the Paleoindians to the exclusion of other things because they had the evidence to study. But this does lead to very obvious example of bias in interpretation: with the assumption (validated by ethnography) that men did the hunting, there is little mention of Paleoindian women and children.

This bias was very evident in the 1930s media coverage of Lindenmeier’s “Folsom Man.” I think we all know that those men could not have been here without the women, and they didn’t spring fully-formed from someone’s forehead either! Through ethnographic studies of bison-hunting historic Plains tribes, we know a great deal about the work of women in these tribes, yet none of this is extrapolated for early interpretations about the Paleoindians of Lindenmeier (although much is extrapolated from pre-horse Plains tribe bison hunting as written about by the first Spaniards on the continent in the 1500s and applied to ideas about Paleoindian hunting of bison). For example, scrapers are women’s tools in the historic Plains tribes. Scrapers make up a huge percentage of the stone tools recovered at Lindenmeier. We may be getting a very good look at Paleoindian WOMEN from Lindenmeier, pushing our ideas about these people way beyond the “Folsom Man the Hunter” mystique created by the media.   

It is partly for these reasons that Lindenmeier continues to inform us even though the last excavation season there was the summer of 1940.

Popular imagining of "Folsom Man," from a 1947 Rocky Mountain Empire magazine article about Lindenmeier

Popular imagining of "Folsom Man," from a 1947 Rocky Mountain Empire magazine article about Lindenmeier

(For more information about the opening weekend of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and neighboring Red Mountain Open Space and the scheduled events and festivities, please see Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space Grand Opening Details Announced.)

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1 Response to “We still learn from Lindenmeier”



  1. 1 The Marks People Leave on the Land « More to Explore Trackback on November 4, 2010 at 8:02 am
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