by Spencer Pelton
Prior to the start of the Fall semester, CSU faculty Dr's. Jason LaBelle and Rich Adams, along with graduate students Chris Johnston and myself, hosted a “Rendezvous in the Rockies” to showcase our archaeological work in the Mountains and Plains of the Colorado Front Range. Much of the Rendezvous was staged out of a mountain cabin located between Tabernash and Granby, CO, a relaxed setting that facilitated a nightly sharing of ideas and informal conversation. Also in attendance were UC Davis professor, Dr. Bob Bettinger, and Dr. David Hurst Thomas, Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, and member of the National Academy of the Sciences.
At times during their long and respected careers, both Bettinger and Thomas have conducted research on high altitude adaptations of prehistoric foragers in the arid North American West, Bettinger at high altitude villages in the White Mountains of eastern California and Thomas at similar sites in the Alta Toquima range of central Nevada. Recently added to the body of knowledge concerning high altitude archaeology, is professor Dr. Rich Adams’ research at alpine village sites in the Wind River Range of northern Wyoming.
In line with this legacy of high altitude research, and on the shoulders of Jim Benedict’s work in the region, the Center for Mountains and Plains Archaeology is currently conducting research in the Rollins Pass study area, located along the Continental Divide west of Boulder, Colorado at elevations exceeding 3600 meters in elevation. The study area is an expansive archaeological landscape comprised of 12, sometimes massive animal traps totaling over eight kilometers of rock alignments and close to 200 hunting blinds, as well as a couple of dozen prehistoric campsites and upland task sites associated with the features.
Building off of the work of Byron Olson and Jim Benedict, the Center for Mountains and Plains Archaeology (CMPA) has completed three field seasons within the project area and continues to produce publications, conference posters and presentations on the fascinating archaeology located in our own back yard, on the crest of the continent.
Collectively, the body of scholarship concerning prehistoric forager adaptations to high altitude environments challenges modern perceptions of high altitude regions as harsh and uninhabitable landscapes, and replaces it with the notion that, at times during prehistory, the high altitudes of the West were sought after regions, and not just for weekend jaunts to see the fall colors.
Much of the Rendezvous was spent visiting high altitude sites and discussing the diversity of reasons why prehistoric foragers may have tolerated or buffered themselves against such harsh conditions to exploit the alpine tundra for the wide diversity of large game species it contains, including elk, deer, mountain sheep, and, prehistorically, bison.
Coming down from the mountains, the Rendezvous concluded with a visit to one of the largest Paleoindian sites in North America, the Lindenmeier Folsom site, which is located on public natural area north of Fort Collins. Largely for its size (500+ projectile points), antiquity (at least 11,000 years old), and for the diversity of artifacts recovered from the site, which includes rare artifact types such as bone needles and beads, the Lindenmeier site is considered one of the most significant in the country.
For the past few years, Dr. Jason LaBelle has conducted field work in and around the Lindenmeier site, recording and testing hundreds of archaeological sites from all cultural periods within the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space. These extensive data sets, together with those being compiled for the high altitudes, are really the center-piece of the CMPA’s current research, which centers upon the integration of multiple landscape-level survey data sets in constructing an understanding of the relationship between prehistoric foragers and the diverse array of environments with which they were afforded in the Colorado Front Range.
The Rendezvous was a chance for the handful of North American archaeologists invested in the study of alpine regions to exchange ideas and compare research approaches in a relaxed, informal setting, and generally attempt to understand a lifeway so very different than our own. Furthermore, it established the CMPA as a burgeoning and legitimate voice on alpine archaeology in North America, and a capable outlet for students and established researchers alike interested in pursuing such work.