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15 September 2011
Archaeologists unearth significant find in Colorado

The Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area in Colorado (USA) contains a number of prehistoric sites that have excited Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archaeologists Glade Hadden and Carol Patterson. One of those, the Gunnison River Rock Art Site, is tucked into rocky ledges overlooking the Gunnison River.
     The overhang downstream from the Gunnison River Pleasure Park is covered with archaic rock art. "This is where ancient people went to hunt," Hadden says, "because it's the only place the herds of deer can cross the Gunnison River for miles in either direction."
     BLM archaeologists had been aware of the site for some time, but feared looters had beaten them to the most interesting finds. When professors from Western Wyoming College visited the area looking for a place to host a field school for their students, BLM archaeologists decided to start digging through the layers of earth beneath the overhang. Soon they discovered what Hadden describes as possibly one of the most important archaeological sites in western Colorado. The first find was a 4,000-year-old rock-lined hearth.
     "That's pretty rare in this country so we kept digging, and we found a 6,000-year-old hearth. Beneath that one we found a 7,000-year-old hearth. We thought we were done but then we found signs of human occupation from over 8,000 years ago," Hadden says. Among those finds are Fremont-style basketry, projectile points, beads and bones which served as tools.
     The Fremont were a Caucasian agricultural people who lived in the area from 300 to 1300 CE. Hadden says the team have uncovered what appear to be two distinct Fremont age levels. He's hopeful evidence of even older occupations may be deeper within the stratified layers. While Hadden is aware of similar sites in the area, he believes the Gunnison River Rock Art Site is unique in terms of the information it's revealed.

Edited from Delta County Independent (7 September 2011)

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