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21 August 2005
Prehistoric dig in Colorado running out of time

Amid the weedy expanse that soon will become Parker's reservoir (Colorado, USA), Erik Gantt and his archaeological crew are fighting a battle against time. The group was invited to Douglas County nearly a year ago to investigate findings that ancient people lived at the creek site southwest of Parker for thousands of years, building homes, creating artistic objects and hunting food. But budget overruns due to time-consuming discoveries on the Rueter-Hess Reservoir land have prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ask that archaeologists abandon the 6,500-year-old site early next month. Bulldozers would shovel dirt over significant dig sites that have already yielded some of Colorado's oldest pottery and what may be a one-of-a-kind kiln.
     "The people in Parker were pretty excited for the first eight months or so, but attitudes have changed drastically since then," said Gantt, whose federally mandated search over the 640-acre piece of land has yielded four 4,000-year-old houses, several weapons and hearths used to cook food. The attitude shift, town officials said, came in part because the Parker Water & Sanitation District initially budgeted $100,000 for what it thought would be short-term archaeological research. The district pays all costs for the reservoir, including the research mandated by federal law. But costs soared to $800,000 this summer as scientists continued to find artifacts, and the final price tag could exceed $1 million once 40,000 items are fully analyzed.
     The site was home to prehistoric people that lived there 6,500 years ago to about 1,800 years ago. Archaeologists began by cutting into the creek bank and examining changes in soil color and texture. Soon, flakes of rock were found, indicating that people were creating tools. And nearly half a mile away, pieces of 1,800-year-old pottery were found, along with darts, arrows and a 2,000-year-old, 5-inch knife with a still-sharp blade. Further digging partially exposed fire pits, food storage areas and outlines of homes. A clay, doglike figure about the size of a man's pinky finger was found in a possible kiln, which could be the first High Plains kiln found in North America.
     Because only 1 percent to 2 percent of the site was excavated, meaning more money would be needed, town officials argued that a cap should be put on the work. If the archaeologists pack up next month and rebury dig areas, the decision could add to a continuing nationwide debate over whether public needs should trump preservation of prehistoric finds.

Source: Denver Post (19 August 2005)

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