Monday, August 15, 2011

Evidence Found Of Prehistoric Humans On The Western Slope

By Matt Kroschel

Grand Junction- Deposits in a rock shelter overhang in the Book Cliffs area north of Grand Junction, Colorado are revealing a picture of daily life in western Colorado that may have taken place some seven to eight thousand years ago.

Scientists conducting a project for Dominguez Anthropological Research Group (DARG) in Grand Junction reported Monday that artifacts and sedimentary evidence recovered during a recently completed excavation are adding important new evidence in their search for the earliest people in western Colorado.

“We have identified strong evidence of several periods of human occupation at the site, ranging from Late Prehistoric back to Middle or Early Archaic times, as early as seven to eight thousand years ago,” said James Miller, DARG research director and adjunct professor in geoarchaeology at Colorado Mesa University.

Miller, who is both an archaeologist and geologist, reported also that a concentration of charcoal recovered in older deposits at the site may represent Late Paleoindian Foothills-Mountain people, who first appeared in western Colorado about 10,000 years ago.

During June and July, archaeologists working on the project excavated soil and rock deposits in the shelter to a depth of more than three meters to collect and analyze samples from sediments, invertebrate remains, cultural features, and artifacts preserved at the site. The data is now being analyzed and will be used to interpret the site’s culture history.

“Evidence from three other excavated sites DARG has studied in the Grand Junction area shows that human beings have been making a living in west central Colorado for at least 13,000 years,” said Miller.

“One of our study sites, located on Battlement Mesa in the Parachute area, has also yielded tentative, but so far inconclusive, evidence of an even older occupation, dating to as much as 15,000 years ago. We are planning to conduct additional testing at that site to search for data that can corroborate or refute that possibility.”

Prevailing archaeological theory considers the first human inhabitants in the New World to be the Clovis people, who appeared roughly 13,500 years ago. If Miller and his team can find conclusive evidence of earlier inhabitants, it will be of extraordinary interest to archaeologists throughout North America. Miller emphasized, however, that evidence recovered at the site so far is suggestive at best. “We simply need more data,” he said, “but even the tentative prospect of recovering cultural deposits of such antiquity is exciting.”

The rock shelter currently being studied by DARG is located on public lands in the Book Cliffs area north of Grand Junction, near an area planned for future energy development. Archaeologists working on the project have named the site the Jeanne Rock Shelter, in honor of Jeanne Crum. The site was first recorded in 1980, and was officially determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by federal and state agencies based on archaeological tests conducted in 2009. DARG’s current data recovery work is part of a cultural resources mitigation plan approved by the Bureau of Land Management. The project was funded in part by a State Historical Fund grant award from the Colorado Historical Society, with additional funding from Rhino Energy, LLC and Grand River Institute.

“This project is a great example of what can be achieved when energy developers, land managers, and researchers work together to conserve important cultural resources on Colorado’s public lands,” said Carl Conner, DARG president. “Our research programs try to encourage projects that can leverage the highest possible return on investment, not only in terms of baseline data and information required by regulatory processes, but also in relation to the scientific knowledge and cultural heritage values embedded in our public lands. We think everyone benefits from that approach.”

Dominguez Anthropological Research Group (DARG) is a non-profit consortium for anthropological and archaeological research, preservation, and education in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The group has been active as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization since 2003, pursuing an integrated program of studies in regional prehistoric and historic archaeology and ethnohistory. For more information, see .

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