On a low, grassy ridge near a ponderosa pine forest north of Dolores, archaeologists and volunteers identified stones last week that Native Americans likely shaped more than 1,000 years ago.
The site where the team found artifacts, including century-old metal debris from a logging company, was one of the undocumented sites found over two weeks in July at Lone Mesa State Park by a team led by experts from the Colorado Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation.
The team of 26 people surveyed about 450 acres in the 11,760-acre park on foot in a grid pattern, gathering data that could eventually be used to help manage the park, if it opens to the public.
Documenting the sites may help park managers tell future visitors about how the land was used by ancient and historic people, said Kimball Banks, an archaeologist contracted by the State Archaeologist’s Office to help with the project.
“The whole idea is to put all of this together and try to tell the story of the people,” he said.
The Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation plans to work with Ute tribes to tell the story of people who used landscape, said Rebecca Simon, assistant state archaeologist.
Lone Mesa State Park was purchased by the state in 1999, and in 2002, it opened to hunting, but no other activities are allowed there. At this time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not have a timeline for fully opening the park, but the newly collected archaeological data could inform future decisions about the park, said Joe Lewandowski, a CPW spokesman.
The park could offer hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and camping if it is opened, he said.
The archaeological survey was the first completed in the area since 2010, but it’s likely archaeologists and volunteers will be back next year, Simon said.
The park is a corridor for all kinds of wildlife, including deer and elk, and was likely inhabited by humans for thousands of years, she said. The primary period of habitation was likely between 5,000 B.C. and 500 B.C., she said.
The site found July 19 on the ridge, where both ancient artifacts and logging debris were found, demonstrates the appeal of the area over time, said Stephanie Boktor, cultural resource information and GIS specialist with the state.
“People tend to see the same great things in sites,” she said.
Some of the artifacts found last week included pieces of projectiles and stones used to grind grain, commonly called a mano and metate, all likely evidence of a Native American camp, Simon said.
The site was found on the final hours of the last day of the survey, so a team of 10 people had to work fast to place brightly colored neon flags in the hillside to mark artifacts. Other team members documented each item or helped with mapping the area on paper and with geographic-information-system technology. The team planned to date the Native American artifacts at the site using the shape and type of materials of the found objects, Boktor said.
The metal debris on the site was likely left behind by Montezuma Logging Co. in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she said.
In addition to helping to document new sites, the survey at Lone Mesa gave volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills through the state’s Program for Avocational Archaeological Certification. The certification program can help prepare volunteers to assist on other professional archaeological surveys, excavations or lab projects, according to the State Archaeologist’s Office.
Volunteer Nichelle Taylor said she enjoyed the work because it allowed her to apply classroom lessons she took as an anthropology major at the University of Northern Colorado and prepare the park for visitors by determining how the land was used and what areas need to be protected.
“The past is the key to the present and then, eventually, the future,” Taylor said.