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Ancient Colorado, by David Grant Noble

Review by Allen Best

Colorado Archeology – September 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine – Ancient Colorado: An Archæological Perspective.
by David Grant Noble
Published by the Colorado Council of Professional Archæologists, Box 40727, Denver, CO 80204-0727

SOME YEARS AGO I was in Boulder at a conference about science reporting.

Several scientists from the University of Colorado were there, grousing about the newspaper reports concerning Rocky Flats and global climate change. Reporters, said one scientist, should embark on the same study of science that the scientists had.

A reporter from the Rocky Mountain News would have none of it. He reported for the general public, he said, and to communicate with them he needed to have their questions, to speak their language. To become a scientist, he insisted, would kill his mission as a medium.

Concerning Colorado archæology, we’ve had few efforts to bridge that gap.

That’s odd, given the pervasive interest in prior inhabitants. Colorado’s No. 1 tourist draw? Mesa Verde National Park. My years in the newspaper business taught me that any news from the archæological front was front-page news.

Yes, the shelf of literature devoted to Colorado archæology is huge and growing rapidly, owing to federal laws enacted during the Nixon years that mandate cultural resource surveys before disturbance on federal lands or even on private lands if the project involves federal money. Those reports, however, are scientific affairs, written in the specialized language of the archæologist.

Those pieces intended for the general reader are few, and most in Colorado have to do specifically with the Ancestral Pueblo, i.e., the Anasazi.

The best state-wide survey remains E. Steve Cassells’s The Archæology of Colorado, published by Johnson Books of Boulder. The original volume, published in 1983, was weak, but the revised edition published in 1997 covers more ground eloquently.

This 50-page booklet strikes the same happy balance of Cassells’s more recent work and in more succinct fashion. It is abetted by four-color photography. The story covers everything from the time of the ice-age hunters felling mastodons to the great flux of the 18th and 19th century on the Great Plains. It also pauses to ponder the unknown. Some of the biggest question marks concern the extent to which the mountains were used for year-round habitation, instead of the seasonal habitation that was for a time presumed.

Nothing in this booklet is specific to the lands of Central Colorado, although one segment discusses culturally peeled ponderosa trees found at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

Still, if you’ve ever spent an afternoon looking for arrowheads (called projectile points by the scientists), I’m betting you’ll want to invest an evening in this booklet. Published by the Colorado Council of Professional Archæologists, it’s being distributed free to libraries and others who specifically request it. However, the initial press run of 5,000 copies is expected to be gone soon. Hope for a second printing and additional distribution at a small cost.

— Allen Best