Posts Tagged 'Soapstone Prairie Natural Area'

Flintknapping: so easy — ?!

by Lesley Drayton,  Local History Archive Curator

The rock chips flew on Friday night as a group of spectators at the Museum were treated to a fascinating discussion and demonstration of flintknapping by Bob Patten, a world-renowned maker of stone tools who specializes in replicating the fluted Folsom point. This Museum After-Hours event was designed to help whet people’s appetites for the grand opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area on Saturday, where Bob also gave a flintknapping demonstration.

I was very excited to meet Bob Patten. He’s a rock star (pun intended) when it comes to Clovis and Folsom archaeology, and I knew I’d like him after reading the words of caution on the back cover of his book Old Tools- New Eyes: A Primal Primer of Flintknapping: “Warning! Material contained in this book has been known to cause some individuals to become obsessive devotees of the art of flintknapping. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.”

Well, proceed we did. Bob laid out a drop cloth to catch all the debitage (the little bits of rock chips and flakes that fly off when knapping a tool) and donned a pair of “prehistoric spats,” which were small leather coverings for his ankles and shoes to keep sharp pieces of flint and chert from settling into his socks.

Flintknapping has a great audible quality. Each blow of the hammer stone brings a sharp shattering sound, and then the retouching with the antlers gives out a series of satisfying crunches. We were hearing a slice of what life sounded like at Folsom campsites 12,000 years ago.

Bob’s flintknapping demonstration illustrated the incredible amount of practice, planning, and skill Folsom people would have needed to craft tools and not just survive, but thrive in this high plains environment. His demonstration also got me thinking about everyday life for Paleoindians at the Lindenmeier site. I could imagine the distant past and the sound of flintknapping blending with the murmur of conversation, mixing together across gusts of Northern Colorado wind.

Bob Patten talks about the intricacies flintknapping

Bob Patten talks about the intricacies of flintknapping

Bob Patten talks about different types of stone used to make tools

Bob Patten talks about different types of stone used to make tools

Tools of the flint knapping trade

Tools of the flintknapping trade

Hammer stone in hand, Bob prepares to strike a flake off a chert core

Hammer stone in hand, Bob prepares to strike a flake off a chert core

The bumper sticker on Bob's car says it all!

The bumper sticker on Bob's car says it all!


Contribute to the Soapstone Prairie/Red Mountain time capsule

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program and Larimer County’s Department of Natural Resources are accepting submissions for a time capsule that will be opened on the tenth anniversary of Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain Open Space’s opening, June, 2019. Will these amazing places be the same in ten years? The answer is up to all of us. Everyone is invited to be part of history by contributing their first impressions, hopes and dreams for Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain Open Space in art or writing. Do you love the properties? Do you think they’re a waste of money and space? What would you like to see happen with them? We care about what you think, feel, wonder, and want to say.

During this weekend’s opening celebrations, visitors are invited to decorate one of the hundreds of celebration flags that will fly out on Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain June 6th and 7th. These flags will be included in the contents of the time capsule, but they aren’t the only way you can contribute your thoughts, impressions, and reactions to the properties for posterity. Photographs, prose, poetry, and ponderings are all encouraged.



Time Capsule Submission Requirements

  • Size: Must be flat, no thicker than a sheet of paper, and no larger than 1 foot square. Photographs of three dimensional submissions welcome.
  • Materials: Please ensure submissions will last 10 years and don’t damage other capsule contents. Time capsule contributions must use all archival materials including paper, ink, glue etc. Digital submissions are encouraged.
  • Use: Submitting material to the time capsule constitutes your permission for the Fort Collins Natural Areas program and Larimer County Natural Resources to use it in any form deemed appropriate for educational, informational and promotional purposes. Photo/artist credits will be given when practicable.
  • Deadline: June 30, 2009 at 5 pm

How to Submit

Only one contribution per person. All submissions must include your name, and email or phone number.

  • Email:
  • Mail: Time Capsule, Fort Collins Natural Areas Program, PO Box 580, Fort Collins, CO 80522
  • Drop off: Fort Collins Natural Resources Department, 215 North Mason or Fort Collins Natural Areas Program, 1745 Hoffman Mill Road, during regular business hours, Monday – Friday 8-5.

Contact Zoe Whyman, Natural Areas Community Relations Manager, or 221-6311 with questions. 

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

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

Listening in museums

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation, Fort Collins Museum

I’ll let you in on a secret – sometimes I spy on you in the museum.

Not in a “Mission Impossible,” hanging from the ceiling sort of way (because I know I’d get tangled in the wires and end up dangling upside down by one foot in front of Frank Miller’s Mud Wagon), but do I like to watch and listen to you when you’re here. I care about what exhibits you visit, and what things you say when you’re visiting. It’s all part of what helps us create better experiences for all our visitors.

Normally, most of you do the same things in our exhibits. You stand in front of objects, you look at them, you open drawers, and you push buttons. You do exactly what we hoped you would in that exhibit. Everyone once in a while, though, one of you surprises me. I had one of my most interesting surprises last week.

Last Thursday I went down to our gallery and watched a little girl and boy and their grandmother. The grandmother stood in front of objects, looked at them, and opened drawers (expected), the brother ran around pretending he was a cowboy with a laser gun (also expected), but the little girl did something I had never seen before. She walked up to objects, leaned in closely, closed her eyes, and listened. She listened to baskets, coyotes, bison bones, and Folsom points. When her grandmother asked what she was listening to, the little girl replied, “Stories.”

The idea that objects are vehicles for stories is not a new one for museums. We know that the story of an object is often just as interesting as the object itself, and that those stories help situate “things” within the larger scope of human experience. However, as a museum, one of our jobs is to tell you those stories, because the objects aren’t supposed to speak for themselves. Or can they?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work in preparation for the June 6th opening of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, which includes the Lindenmeier Site, an archaeological site that reaches back 12,000 years. Several of the Native American tribal elders we’ve worked with to better understand the history of the area have talked about the spirits that objects have, and the stories you’ll hear if you know how to listen.

I don’t know what that little girl heard as she leaned close to our pine needle basket. Did she hear Helen Dickerson, the woman who wove it, and the adventures she and her sister Alice had living in a cabin in Buckhorn Canyon? Did she hear the pine tree whose needles were given to make that basket? Or does the basket have its own story, one that I don’t even know?

This morning our gallery is quiet, and as I walk through it I can easily believe that if I lean in close enough to that pine needle basket, it will tell me its secrets. Not too long from now our museum will become a lot noisier. When the Discovery Science Center moves its exhibits into the Fort Collins Museum, the gallery will be filled with the fantastic, excited noise of DSC’s devoted fan base of kids and their families. But if you listen closely, I wonder what else you might hear.

Could you hear the coyote's story?

Could you hear the coyote's story?

A visit to Red Mountain Open Space

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center

Last week, in preparation for the June 6th openings of the City of Fort Collin’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County’s adjacent Red Mountain Open Space (RMOS), a group of us from the Museum and the City’s Natural Areas Program (NAP), along with staff from Larimer County Parks and Open Lands (LCPOL), took a field trip to the properties along with elders from the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho tribes. This was a wonderful opportunity for all of us with different backgrounds and expertise to come together and develop a more holistic appreciation of the areas. We had a chance to talk about what makes the land important from both natural and cultural history perspectives, we saw how the hard-working crews from the city and county have prepared the land for access by the public, and we shared how we anticipate the public will use the lands.

We started the day with a bang – we saw a great horned owl sitting in a tree as we drove north and we counted several pronghorns and mule deer on the route as well. Once we arrived at RMOS, we went for a hike on one of the newly-constructed trails, led by LCPOL educator Rob Novak who explained some of the unique geologic formations along the way (see photos below). Crevices in the red rock canyons held pack rat middens hundreds of years old, while smaller cracks revealed the remnants of cocoons formed by insects going through metamorphosis this very spring. Under overhangs high above the trail, swallow nests of mud clung to the sandstone. A prairie falcon zipped around over our heads. Volunteer Master Naturalists from NAP consulted each other while identifying plants. Katie Bowell, one of our curators with a entomology background, counted plenty of harvester ant nests. We were all amazed at a flock of 11 sandhill cranes as they spiraled up across the sky, flying on the thermals, headed for their summer habitat in Siberia. Someone even found a gorgeous green rock that none of us could identify with any certainty! It didn’t matter which way we looked, up, down and all around, there were exciting discoveries to be made.

After our hike, we headed over to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and the part of the trip I’ve been waiting over ten years to experience again. More on that soon!  

Along the trail at Red Mountain Ranch Open Space

Along the trail at Red Mountain Ranch Open Space

Pack rat midden along trail at Red Mountain Open Space

Pack rat midden along trail at Red Mountain Open Space


Swallow nests along cliff at Red Mountain Open Space

Swallow nests along cliff at Red Mountain Open Space

Mystery rock at Red Mountain Open Space

Mystery rock at Red Mountain Open Space

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