Archaeology of the Gunnison Area

Acknowledgements

Western State Colorado University has conducted field schools on the Tenderfoot Site since 1991.  We have received generous support from the Colorado Historical Society (Historic Fund Projects), The City of Gunnison (Challenge Grant Program), the Western State Colorado University Foundation, Western State Colorado University, and private donors. 

The research described here is the result of countless hours of work by Western State Colorado University undergraduate anthropology students, Colorado Archaeological Society volunteers, and colleagues. Further descriptions of this research can be found in the book, Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country, University Press of Colorado.

Understanding Colorado Hunter-gatherers

When we began working on the Tenderfoot Site in 1991, our knowledge of the Archaic (hunter-gatherers exploiting a modern (non-Ice Age) environment.  Generally the period beginning about 8000 years ago and lasting until prehistoric farmers or Europeans made their appearance.) occupation of western Colorado was based mainly on a few excavations of cave sites and one or two open lithic-scatter sites.  Generally, archaeologists had thought that the Archaic inhabitants of western colorado were highly mobile, living a relatively unchanging, simple lifeway.  Subsistence was thought to be based on seeds and small game. The major technological changes appeared to be an increase in ground-stone seed-processing implements and changes in the shape of projectile points.  Inadequacies in these models began to surface in 1978, when archaeologists in Colorado began to find Archaic houses.

The archaeological community has long debated the extent of prehistoric environmental change and its impact on cultural adaptations in western Colorado.  Environmental change in the Gunnison Basin has been the subject of an extensive interdisciplinary research project.

We have taken a regional approach to the archaeology of the Gunnison Basin.  Much work has been conducted at the Tenderfoot Site near Western State Colorado University.  High-quality data also have been obtained by the U.S. Park Service at nearby Curecanti National Recreational Area. 

A complex picture of prehistoric adaptations is emerging. We have material from many kinds of sites in the Basin; the most detailed studies to date have been conducted on residential sites. In the future, more work will examine additional kinds of sites.

More Information

For more information about the archaeology of western Colorado or the anthropology program at Western State Colorado University please contact Mark Stiger at mstiger@western.edu.

Bibliography of Relevant Sources

Andrews, J. T., P. E. Carrara, F. B. King, and R. Stuckenrath 1975 Holocene Environmental Changes in the Alpine Zone, Northern San Juan Mountains, Colorado: Evidence from Bog Stratigraphy and Palynology. Quaternary Research 5:173-197.

Armstrong, David M. 1972 Comments on Zoogeography of Mammals in Southwestern Colorado. Paper prepared for Special Interest Group, Biogeography of Southwestern Colorado, First International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder. 

Black, Kevin D. 1991 Archaic Continuity in the Colorado Rockies: The Mountain Tradition. Plains Anthropologist 36:1-29.

Carrara, P. E., W. N. Mode, Meyer Rubin, and S. W. Robinson 1984 Deglaciation and Postglacial Timberline in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Quaternary Research 21:42-55.

Conner, Carl and Danni Langdon 1989 Archaeological Investigations at Battlement Mesa. Journal of the Western Slope 4(4):4-21.

Dial, Janis L. 1989 The Curecanti Archaeological Project: The Late Prehistoric Component at Pioneer Point. Midwest Archaeological Center Occasional Studies in Anthropology No. 24, F.A. Calabrese, series editor. National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Emslie, Steven D. 1986 Late Pleistocene Vertebrates from Gunnison County, Colorado. Journal of Paleontology 60:170-176.

Euler, R. Thomas and Mark Stiger 1981 1978 Test Excavations at Five Archaeological sites in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Intermountain Colorado. Report on file. National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Fall, Patricia L. 1985 Holocene Dynamics of the Subalpine Forest in Central Colorado. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Contribution Series 16:31-46. 

Jones, Bruce A. 1982 The Curecanti Archaeological Project: 1980 Investigations in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Midwest Archaeological Center Occasional Studies in Anthropology No. 8, F.A. Calabrese, series editor. National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Jones, Bruce A. 1984 Radiocarbon Dates from the Gunnison Basin, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Southwestern Lore 50:14-22.

Jones, Bruce A. 1986a The Curecanti Archaeological Project: 1981 Investigations in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Midwest Archaeological Center Occasional Studies in Anthropology No. 14, F.A. Calabrese, series editor. National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln.

Jones, Bruce A.    1986b The Curecanti Archaeological Project: 1982 Excavations at three sites in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Midwest Archaeological Center Occasional Studies in Anthropology No. 15, F.A. Calabrese, series editor. National Park Service. Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Jones, Bruce A. 1995 Emergency Evaluation at the Checkers Site, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Markgraf, V. and L. Scott  1981 Lower Timberline in Central Colorado during the Past 15,000 years. Geology 9:231-234.

Metcalf, Michael D., and Black Kevin D.    1991 Archaeological Excavations at the Yarmony Pit House Site Eagle County, Colorado. Cultural Resource Series Number 31. USDI Bureau of Land Management, Denver.

Petersen, Kenneth Lee 1977 Tabeguache and Elk Mountain Utes: A Historical Test of an Ecological Model. Southwestern Lore 43:5-21. 

Rood, Ronald J.  1991 Archaeofauna from the Yarmony Site. In Archaeological Excavations at the Yarmony Pit House Site Eagle County, Colorado Cultural Resource series Number 31 edited by Michael D. Metcalf and Kevin D. Black, pp. 157-178. USDI, Bureau of Land Management, Denver.

Rood, Ronald J.  1998 Archaeological Excavations at 5GN2478: Elk Creek Village, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Gunnison County, Colorado. Western State College, Gunnison.

Rossillon, Mary P.  1984 The Curecanti Project: The Archaeology of Marion, An Historic Railroad Camp in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado. Midwest Archaeological Center Occasional Studies in Anthropology, No. 5. National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Stiger, Mark   1981 1979 Investigations at Seven Archaeological Sites in Curecanti National Recreation Area. MS on file. National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, Lincoln.

Stiger, Mark   1986 Technological Organization and Spatial Structure in the Archaeological Record. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Stiger, Mark  1993 Archaeological Investigations at the Tenderfoot Site. Western State College, Gunnison.

Stiger, Mark and R. T. Euler 1978 Test Excavations in Curecanti National Recreation Area, Intermountain Colorado. Program Abstracts, Thirty-sixth Annual Plains Conference 36:86.