When I think archaeology digs, I think remote locations, scorching deserts, and ancient tombs. What I don’t think is Colorado, let alone my own back yard. But on a recent outing with Dr. Jason LaBelle, I learned to reassess those notions.
Every summer Dr. LaBelle, Director of the Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology at Colorado State University (CSU), leads a team of graduate students to work at archaeology sites along the plains and foothills in Northern Colorado. One site, where I joined in, is nestled between developments on the southeast side of Fort Collins and literally five miles from my house.
When I arrived, Dr. LaBelle offered a tour of the site, which includes 55 square-meter holes, designated screen sifting areas, tents, and stacks of equipment. At 9:00 a.m. a dozen students were already at work, crouched over the holes, wiping away layers of dust with tiny brushes and chisels. The group planned to stay at this site for a few weeks, diligently measuring, photographing, and excavating the holes inch by inch.
Their tedious, exacting work was paying off. When I visited, they had already uncovered centuries-old treasures like pottery, arrow points, and grinding stones. The artifacts date back to the Early Ceramic Period, “quite a boring name,” Dr. LaBelle admitted, “but a time when an awakening of complexity was happening across the country.” Between 250 and 1000 AD, long before our European ancestors arrived, the people in this area were starting to settle down and use smaller projectile points for hunting small game. They were becoming less nomadic, possibly using this very site to settle in as a permanent or seasonal community.
The pieces Dr. LaBelle and his team unearthed will go back to the lab at CSU and be examined, one by one, throughout the upcoming fall and spring semesters. Ultimately, they will be on permanent display at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery for everyone to see.
The students gain field work experience for these digs. But it was a lesson for a visitor like me as well… to realize not only how deep our human history is, but also how close.