Lee University’s Summer 2012 Colorado Archaeology Field Schools

Monday, September 03, 2012


During the summer of 2012, two Lee University archaeology field schools were conducted in eastern Colorado under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management, Western Wyoming College, and Lee University.  

Both May and August excavations included a team of four Lee University students with Murl Dirksen, Lee Professor of Anthropology.  The primary site for the field work was the Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) area of Paradox Valley of eastern Colorado near Mesa Verde National Park and Arches National Park.  

Glade Hadden of the BLM as well as Jamie Darnell and Dudley Gardner from WWC were the supervising professional archaeologists on the projects. The goal of the field schools was for students to gain firsthand experience in both archaeological excavation and artifact survey.

Paradox Valley has been occupied for thousands of years by Paleo-Indian, Fremont and Anasazi cultures that have left behind village ruins, lithic scatter of stone tools, and a large amount of rock art.  In May students were involved in three different site excavations.  

Along the Gunnison River near Delta, Colorado, they worked in a rock shelter that has provided C-14 dates on charcoal samples as early as 12,000 B.C. and has seven levels of continual occupancy until 500 years ago.  Here they worked alongside two archaeologists from New Zealand involved in 3-D scanning the Eagle Rock shelter because of its significance for rewriting early American history.  

On the Wooten Ranch near La Junta, they continued an excavation started last summer, dealing primary with material from the Apishapa culture (1,000 – 1,400 A.D).   The project on the ranch is significant because of the need to protect valuable cultural resources on a site which might otherwise be used by the U.S. military for tank training.  Most of the work in both May and August, however, was in eastern Colorado in Paradox Valley.

One of the principal activities of the field research was searching for undocumented rock art in the rugged mesa cliffs of the upper part of Paradox Valley.  Petroglyphs are difficult to find and date, and their meaning is elusive.  

Rock drawings are probably a combination of clan totems, maps of hunting or migration routes and cultural stories. And their location might have been a place where shamans congregated and ceremonial rituals were conducted. Much of the rock art in that part of the valley has never been located, documented and photographed.

In doing surveys for cultural artifacts, students spaced out about 50 meters a part walking the area looking for any evidence of occupation: lithic tools, art on rock facings, dinosaur bones, and historic artifacts since the area was occupied by sheepherders in the late 1800’s.

During the two-week, May field school, the team did meter by meter test pits in areas where there was significant lithic scatter as well as excavating a midden, the dump waste area just outside a rock shelter.  This shelter contained a beautiful rock art panel of ten anthropomorphic figures holding hands with very detailed images of various animals.

The August excavation in Paradox Valley involved excavation on the inside of a rock shelter that was probably used as a hunting camp. Items found included stone flakes and cores utilized during tool making, several bi-faced arrowheads, a mano and metate employed in graining seeds and grain, cedar bark commonly used as bedding, and charcoal fragments.

All the students except one are anthropology majors and several have career plans to become professional archaeologists. One student, Jill Veenstra, after finishing the field school in May, went on to complete an intensive internship at the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville; and Nicole Hayes is planning to work in cataloguing the artifacts at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park this fall.  

Dirksen said, “I want my students to experience excavating cultural material firsthand so they can learn the skills and methods of archaeology.  The things they learn about environmental adaptation and cultural resources in an arid climate like that of the Southwest will be useful to them in whatever career choice they make.”

This project was made possible in part by a Faculty Research Grant through Lee’s President’s Office. For further information about anthropology or archaeology, contact Dr. Richard Jones or Dr. Murl Dirksen at Lee, (423)-614-8000.

Eagle Rock Shelter – May Excavation at Eagle Rock Shelter with team members Jill Veenstra, Leah Pyron, Nicole Hayes, Olivia Long, and Murl Dirksen
Paradox Valley – Veenstra documenting Anasazi and Fremont rock art panel in Paradox Valley
Artifacts Screen - Screen for artifacts at Short Man Rock Shelter: Glade Hadden (BLM archaeologist) with Abbey Thomas, Mary-Carol McMillan, Emma Leigh Evors, and Allie Webb
Team – May excavation team of Murl Dirksen, Emily Evors, Glade Hadden (BLM), Mary-Carol McMillan, Allie Webb and Abby Thomas
Team2 – August field school team of Allie Webb, Mary-Carol McMillan, Murl Dirksen, Emma Leigh Evors, and Abbey Thomas
Short Man Rock – Allie Webb and Mary-Carol McMillan excavating Short Man Rock Shelter in Paradox Valley