UNC Archeology Dig Breaks New Ground

UNC archeology dig

Students and staff in the UNC Anthropology program work at this summer's dig site in a valley outside Walden. The site continues to yield impressive quantities of well-preserved artifacts ranging in age from 600 to 10,000 years. Photo courtesy of Bob Brunswig.

Discoveries this summer at an ongoing University of Northern Colorado archeology dig in the state's North Park area are providing new insights into the lives of the indigenous people who lived there and giving students hands-on experience in being part of ground-breaking research.

The dig and field school on Bureau of Land Management land in a valley northeast of Walden are being supervised by Bob Brunswig, professor of Anthropology and director of the School of Social Sciences. He's been leading digs in the area since 2003 and is especially excited about this summer's findings.

According to Brunswig, the extremely good preservation of artifacts on the site used by Ute Indians 600-1,000 years ago is revealing where the hunter-gatherers lived in the valley and surrounding area during different seasons of the year, as well as how they organized their lives. The patterns of organization being discovered will serve as valuable baselines to use in identifying and understanding the anthropological and archeological nature and significance of future digs throughout the region, he said.

"We previously discovered and dug where this group of 100-120 or more individuals lived in the spring and summer, and this current site appears to be where they lived in the fall and killed game to replenish their larders and prepare for the winter," Brunswig said. "Once we find where they spent the winter, and we have a pretty good idea where that is, we'll have completed the full circle of their life."

In addition, carbon-dating of pieces of pottery found on the site makes it the earliest pre-historic Ute site found in the Rocky Mountain region. Evidence of Ute occupation in the area dates back as recently as 600 years ago and as long ago as almost 10,000 years ago, he said.

Another interesting aspect of this summer's work was when chemical analysis of the inside of pottery found at the site revealed the presence of maize. Because the Utes didn't raise any crops, they likely traded for the corn with a farming tribe from the south such as the Anasazi.

Brunswig and his students have consulted frequently with members of the Northern Ute Tribe, including Clifford Duncan, a Ute elder and shaman, who performed a traditional Ute blessing ritual at the site.

This summer's field school includes 11 students who will receive four credit hours and five students from previous field schools who are being paid. The project is funded by a grant from the Colorado State Historic Fund with matching contributions from the BLM and UNC.

"The field schools are incredible opportunities for students," Brunswig said. "Digs allow them to apply what they learn in the classroom in a very practical manner, gain a leg up on getting into grad school and see if they want to specialize in field work or lab work.

"Plus, we'll hire some of them to sort and categorize artifacts from the dig so they'll be supplementing their income over the course of the school year."

Of Note
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Fred Sellet was scheduled to again co-lead the field school with Brunswig but received an excused absence when he learned in April that he had been awarded a Smithsonian Institution Senior Fellowship to spend the summer analyzing stone tools from the Lindenmeier site, located north of Fort Collins. The site, excavated by the Smithsonian Institution from 1934 to 1940, contains a large 10,600-year-old Paleoindian camp site belonging to the Folsom Culture. Sellet's study will reconstruct hunting weapons and manufacturing and replacement patterns at the site to provide clues about Folsom planning strategies and subsistence.