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An Archaeological History

By Sarah M. Nelson, K. Lynn Berry, Richard E. Carrillo, Bonnie J. Clark, Lori E. Rhodes, and Dean Saitta

Publication Year: 2008

"An innovative look at the archaeology of a region (the Central Great Plains) through a longitudinal study of human occupation in a specific place - Denver, Colorado. It is an exciting, well-written account that sheds light on how people have survived changes in climate, plant life, animals, and human events over the past 14,000 years."—Choice Magazine

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.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Series: Timberline Series


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

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...

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pp. xi-xii

This book would never have been written without the interest, encouragement, and downright nagging of John Cotter, and therefore it is dedicated to him. John was a Denver native who graduated from the University of Denver in 1935. He became an archaeologist partly due to the inspiration of Dr. E. B. Renaud, founder of the...

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1: Greater Denver as a Region of Frontiers and Boundaries

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pp. 1-19

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...

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2: Geology and Environment

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pp. 21-59

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...

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3: Prehistoric Sites

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pp. 61-109

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...

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4: Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence

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pp. 111-137

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...

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5: Historic Archaeology

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pp. 139-219

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...

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6: Conclusion

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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...

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pp. 229-242

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...


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pp. 243-268


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pp. 269-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780870819841
E-ISBN-10: 0870819844
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870819353
Print-ISBN-10: 0870819356

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 64 b&w photographs, 12 line drawings, 29 maps
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Timberline Series