Posts Tagged 'Folsom culture'

History and the 23rd Century

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Learning about local and state history has become a full time job and something of a passion for me over the last few years. While it’s always rewarding to use the knowledge that one acquires, it’s usually the most fun when applied in a surprising or unexpected way. Having recently purchased the first season of the original Star Trek series on Blu-ray (power to the geek, my brothers) I identified two instances of Colorado history in two consecutive episodes, guaranteeing my status as King Nerd of the Sofa for at least one more evening.

The first episode in question is the Spock-centric “Galileo Seven.” That’s the one in which Spock, Scotty, Dr. McCoy, and a few characters we’ve never seen before, crash-land their shuttlecraft on a mysterious fog-shrouded planet. Following standard Starfleet regulations, the main cast stays behind to repair the ship, while the guys in the red shirts wander off to show the audience exactly how the monster works. You know who I’m talking about, they usually get lines like, “Captain, over here, I’ve found some…aarrrrrgghh!”

In this particular case, what the red-shirts discover are 12-foot tall, humanoid creatures that end up terrorizing (and occasionally killing) members of the crew by lobbing spears the size of telephone poles from somewhere just off camera. While everyone else is busy panicking (and occasionally dying), Spock calmly analyzes the lethal projectiles noting that the stone tips are similar to Folsom points. This is the point (no pun intended) at which I really got my geek on.

You see, Folsom points are an important part of our local history here in Fort Collins. Named in 1926 in Folsom, New Mexico, this type of stone point was first found by amateur archaeologists in 1924 at the Lindenmeier dig site, located just north of Fort Collins. These points and other stone tools belonging to what is collectively known as the Folsom culture help establish human occupation in North America dating back to the last Ice Age, some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Incidentally, the Fort Collins Museum features one of the most extensive collections of Folsom technology in the world, including items such as points, drills, and gravers.

The function of some of these tools has been determined: points were hafted onto spears or other projectiles for hunting, drills were used for placing holes into bone and other material. What gravers were used for remains a mystery, although several theories exist — including that the fine, sharp point on a graver could be used to decorate skins. Precisely whose skin has yet to be determined — both the application of pigments to animal hide and the scarification of human flesh have been suggested.  

By the time I finished my explanation of Folsom culture, the shuttlecraft had safely returned to its docking bay aboard the Enterprise, and it was time for the next episode, “The Squire of Gothos.” The Squire in question is an almost omnipotent being named Trelane, who pulls members of the starship crew down to his planet to provide him with companionship and entertainment. Though he views humans as a primitive, predatory species, Trelane is none the less well versed in human history — especially the darker chapters involving warfare.

His knowledge also seemingly extends to ancient legal systems, and Trelane dons a judge’s wig as he holds trial against an uncooperative Captain Kirk. It is during this scene that Trelane sentences Kirk “to hang by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead!” This is the same sentence handed down by Judge M.B. Gerry to the notorious Colorado cannibal known as Alferd Packer.

Of course, it was soon after I pointed out this latest tidbit of information that I found myself abandoned on the sofa. Alas, King Nerd rules a lonely domain.


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.)

Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain: 12,000+ years in the making, and less than a month to go!

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

June 6th is a pretty impressive day. According to Wikipedia (which has never steered me wrong), many an important thing has happened on the June 6ths of the past. Some milestones include:

1523: Gustavus I becomes King of Sweden

1850: Levi Strauss makes his first pair of blue jeans

1916: East Cleveland voters approve women’s suffrage

1944: D-Day

1962: The Beatles meet producer George Martin

In just less than one month, another milestone will be added to June 6th’s roster: the openings of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space and, trust me, they’re right up there with getting to wear denim and knowing who the walrus is. You should be bubbling over with excitement by now. Here’s why:

In 2004, the City of Fort Collins purchased over 18,000 acres of shortgrass prairie, foothills, shrubland, cliffs and rock outcrops, wetlands and springs 25 miles north of Fort Collins near the Wyoming border, now know as Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. The same year, Larimer County purchased 15,000 acres of adjoining foothills and woodlands, now known as Red Mountain Open Space, creating over 30,000 acres of protected prairie and foothills. The properties are, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.

A wide variety of animals and plants make their homes at Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain, including elk, pronghorn, swift fox, black bears, mountain lions, golden eagles, burrowing owls, the Colorado blue butterfly, the butterfly plant (no longer found anywhere else in Larimer County), mountain mahogany and ponderosa pines woodlands. There’s also some mighty impressive geology happening on the sites, including the Cheyenne Ridge, which is the upper edge of the Denver Basin, and the Big Hole (trust me, it’s more than just a hole).

Both properties also have an incredible human history. Soapstone Prairie is home to the famous Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, a National Historic Landmark, that’s recognized worldwide as one of the most well-preserved and extensive Folsom culture occupation sites in North America. The site dates from around 12,000 years ago and was excavated in the 1930s by the Smithsonian and the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science). Archaeological work on both Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain demonstrates an extensive and diverse human history – from PaleoIndians of the Ice Age, to millennia of American Indian groups, to more than a century of homesteaders and sheep and cattle ranchers.

Perhaps the most exciting element of both properties is, come June 6th, 2009, we get to experience them for ourselves. When Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain open, miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, along with a variety of public programs on the history, ecology and geology of the area will be available to everyone.

Over the coming weeks, check back to learn more about what makes these properties so special. If you can’t wait even that long, these links may sate you for the time being:

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area

“Speaking History,” The Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project

Map of Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain

Soapstone Prairie Program Guide

Red Mountain Open Space














Soapstone's beautiful rolling shortgrass prairie

Soapstone's beautiful rolling shortgrass prairie

March 2023

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