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Denver: An Archaeological History

Sarah M. Nelson
K. Lynn Berry
Richard F. Carrillo
Bonnie J. Clark
Lori E. Rhodes
Dean Saitta
FOREWORD BY Stephen J. Leonard
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    A vivid account of the prehistory and history of Denver as revealed in its archaeological record, Denver: An Archaeological History invites us to imagine Denver as it once was.   Around 12,000 B.C., groups of leather-clad Paleoindians passed through the juncture of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, following the herds of mammoth or buffalo they hunted. In the Archaic period, people rested under the shade of trees along the riverbanks, with baskets full of plums as they waited for rabbits to be caught in their nearby snares. In the early Ceramic period, a group of mourners adorned with yellow pigment on their faces and beads of eagle bone followed Cherry Creek to the South Platte to attend a funeral at a neighboring village. And in 1858, the area was populated by the crude cottonwood log shacks with dirt floors and glassless windows, the homes of Denver's first inhabitants.   For at least 10,000 years, Greater Denver has been a collection of diverse lifeways and survival strategies, a crossroads of interaction, and a locus of cultural coexistence. Setting the scene with detailed descriptions of the natural environment, summaries of prehistoric sites, and archaeologists' knowledge of Denver's early inhabitants, Nelson and her colleagues bring the region's history to life. From prehistory to the present, this is a compelling narrative of Denver's cultural heritage that will fascinate lay readers, amateur archaeologists, professional archaeologists, and academic historians alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-984-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    Teachers tell students to dig into a subject to really understand it. Archaeologists take that advice literally. For more than a century, they have shoveled dirt to reveal Colorado’s past. Yet despite all that digging, most Coloradans can claim, at best, only a superficial grasp of the state’s archaeological riches. For this we can, tongue in cheek, blame the Ancestral Puebloans at Mesa Verde whose spectacular cliff dwellings have monopolized the public’s attention. Few people realize that artifacts found in Golden, near Denver, predate Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace by some 5,000 years. Few know that there are hundreds of archaeological...

    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Greater Denver as a Region of Frontiers and Boundaries
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is written for readers interested in archaeology and in Denver’s past, but the sources are unwritten history. Archaeological evidence and the evidence of material culture do not merely provide all we can know of the prehistoric inhabitants of the area; they enhance the written record of the historic period as well. The unwritten history of Denver is a story of the relationship of people to their environment on the edge between the High Plains and the Rocky Mountains, a story of frontiers and boundaries. Even in the geologic past the region was characterized by boundaries—sharp transitions—between...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Geology and Environment
    (pp. 21-60)

    Although it is not perceptible to someone standing in the middle of the city itself, Denver occupies the deepest portion of a subsurface structural feature that extends from near Colorado Springs north to Wyoming (Fig. 2.1). Termed the “great trough,” the Denver Basin is part of the Colorado Piedmont Section, a division of a larger grouping of landforms known as the Great Plains Physiographic Province (Madole and Rubin 1984). The Colorado Piedmont Section encompasses much of eastern Colorado east of the mountains, and is characterized by Tertiary sedimentary rocks that have been eroded by the action of the South Platte...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Prehistoric Sites
    (pp. 61-110)

    If we could create a time machine that showed moments of time at any place in the prehistoric past, what might appear on the screen? Let us focus on the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. At the beginning of our story, Paleoindians might pass by in groups, wearing leather clothing. Some of them follow herds of mammoth or bison to replenish their supply of meat, hides, bones, and sinew. A few millennia later, Archaic people might have rested under the trees, talking and laughing, with full baskets of plums beside them and a couple of rabbits...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence
    (pp. 111-138)

    Greater Denver as a frontier is particularly evident during the contact period, when groups of Native Americans intermingled with mountain men, gold seekers, and settlers. Native American peoples were on the move along with other peoples; several groups of Native Americans occupied or passed through the Greater Denver area either successively or simultaneously. The distribution of language groups of Native Americans demonstrates that peoples have migrated sometimes quite far from their relatives. Population movement was not new to North America with the explorations and settlement of Europeans. What was new was wholesale replacement: as Europeans arrived in North America from...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Historic Archaeology
    (pp. 139-220)

    In the late 1850s prospectors found gold in the Platte River and Cherry Creek. Their activities set in motion a dynamic that would permanently change social, political, and economic relationships in the area. Soon merchants, bankers, hotel operators, ranchers, farmers, and a host of others heard the call of the Rocky Mountain West. Skirmishes over land development, battles for political power, and struggles to secure a railroad connection followed in short order. Denver was on the way to urbanization.

    We have already seen the consequences for Native Americans, who had increasingly restricted access to the Denver region as more settlers...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 221-228)

    Greater Denver has been used by various groups probably for as long as humans have lived in the Americas. The area’s archaeological record—running the gamut from small prehistoric scatters of lithic material to rockshelters to historic homes and mines (and even including the burial site of the infamous local cannibal Alferd Packer)—has been used to tell a variety of stories about the lives of its occupants. Although this region was used by different groups of people with different cultures, who brought different abilities and expectations to the region, each found some constants: a region a mile high next...

    (pp. 229-242)
    John L. Cotter

    The title of this book implies, as the authors intended, that what is written here is based primarily upon what the trowel has revealed in the ground. Yet, as all archaeologists agree, what we really know about the prehistoric past has to be analyzed in the light of what we perceive as demonstrated analogues—we would know nothing whatever of the Paleoindians if we did not have the ethnographic record of living Plains tribal groups. By the same token, the vanished evidence of early Denver can best serve future archaeologists with archival and living references.

    What my family witnessed and...

    (pp. 243-268)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 269-274)