Posts Tagged 'archaeology'

Collaborative project with CSU Anthropology

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We’re very excited to be working with the Anthropology Department at Colorado State University on a collaborative project to delve deeper into the information we have here at the Museum about historical and contemporary Native American life in this area. This fall, students in Dr. Kathy Pickering’s Indians of North America class are engaging in research projects to find new information or reinterpret the existing information we have in our collections and interpretive programs. The projects they develop will help us in creating future exhibits and programs for the community.

This project was the brainchild of CSU’s Dr. Pickering and the Museum’s Dr. Brenda Martin, with research support being provided primarily by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections, Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive, and Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation. The students are working with ethnographic, archaeological, and historical data in relation to the Native Americans that lived and still do live in Fort Collins and surrounding areas. The culmination of their work will be a presentation of their findings to Museum staff, members of the Department of Anthropology, the local media, and the public on Monday, November 16th, 2009 from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm in the Lory Student Center in room 213-215. We plan to make selected student projects available on the Museum website after the end of the semester.

Another perspective on artifact looting

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We’ve written several times in this blog about artifact looting, most recently in regards to the June raid and arrests made by Federal agents in Blanding, Utah. That story in particular has sparked a lot of  interest and emotion, especially here in the West.

People who illegally collect artifacts from public lands offer a variety of justifications, many of which are being used by the folks who were caught in the Blanding sting: it’s a time-honored community tradition; the artifacts will just end up in a box in some archaeologist’s lab, so why not pick them up; we’re just doing what everyone else does. Whatever the justification, the fact still remains that it is a crime to remove artifacts from public land.

Removing artifacts also destroys much of what those artifacts can tell us, scientifically. Without context — where an object was found, what was found with it and around it — all we’re left with are disconnected fragments. Archaeologists and museum professionals have weighed in on this subject in regards to the Blanding cases and artifact looting in general.

But there’s a third consideration that received scant, if any, ink in the Blanding saga, and that’s the voice of the people who are the cultural and spiritual heirs of these artifacts. And while there’s no such thing as a “pan-Indian” perspective or opinion on how to treat artifacts, there are those who believe that these objects retain a spiritual quality that goes beyond antiquities laws and scientific processes. From this point of view, the question of what to do with an artifact has a simple answer: Don’t pick it up. It doesn’t belong to you.

Last year, the Fort Collins Museum began a film project to document Native American elders speaking on this topic. The resulting film, “Meeting in the Center with Respect,” debuted in May 2009 as part of the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, a place that’s also home to artifacts ranging from 12,000 years old to those of the historic era. It’s an opportunity to hear an often unheard voice and to get a different perspective on what meaning objects have, and how their connections survive across time, space, and cultural disruption.

The situation in southeastern Utah only highlights how much education still needs to be done to help all of us understand the ethical responsibility we have to protect, respect, and conserve ancestral sites and artifacts.

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.)

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


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