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WESTERN SLOPES OF ROCKIES MAY HAVE BEEN INDIANS’ HOME
MORE THAN `HAPPY HUNTING GROUNDS,’ ARCHAEOLOGIST SAYS

SHARE WESTERN SLOPES OF ROCKIES MAY HAVE BEEN INDIANS’ HOME
MORE THAN `HAPPY HUNTING GROUNDS,’ ARCHAEOLOGIST SAYS

The higher elevations of the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains were not only "happy hunting grounds" but the chosen location for year-round home sites of prehistoric Indians, a Colorado archaeologist says.

Possibly those mountain-dwelling Indians were from eastern Utah and migrated to western Colorado as far back as 10,000 years ago, Kevin Black, assistant state archaeologist for Colorado, told a Moab lecture group.Black said views have changed and archaeologists now believe the higher elevations of Utah and Colorado saw more than seasonal use by Indians of the archaic period, between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago.

The belief until recent years was that the ancient Indians ascended into the mountains only seasonally to hunt, Black said.

"We do look at the mountains as happy hunting grounds, on a seasonal basis," he said. "But in recent years, we have seen the development (of theories) of a hunting and gathering way of life that seems to be focused on the mountains, where they are spending the bulk of their time, with the mountains or foothills being home territory all year round."

Black's presentation on high-elevation prehistoric Indian culture was sponsored by the Moab Chapter of the Utah Archaeological Society.

The Colorado archaeologist said prehistoric sites of the Western Slope are archaeologically significant and relevant to Utah, revealing more of an ancestral relationship between Utah and the western third of Colorado than between the Western Slope and the eastern two-thirds of Colorado.

He said artifacts suggest the Western Slope shares with Utah a history of what is known as "desert culture" dwellers, while eastern Colorado and the rest of North America fall into the "plains" Archaic period.

Among evidence of a connection between the eastern Utah cultures and the Great Basin dwellers of western Colorado are the variety of projectile stem points common to both areas, Black said. He suggested they were produced by the same culture, though at different points in time.

Stem points prolific to archaeological sites in the mountains of western Colorado are most often found in a lake-shore environment, he said, leading to the theory that the Indians moved eastward into Colorado as lakes dried up in Utah, but their lifestyle did not change.

"As the lakes dried up, extensive marshes developed and finally, as the lakes dry up, leaving saline soil . . . the carrying capacity lowers over time. Populations had to disperse to account for the lowering of the productivity of the land," Black said.

"I think it's at least possible that in this dispersal 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, a few people ended up in the Great Basin - one possibility for the origin of this mountain-dwelling culture."

Black said rock art in lime caves in Colorado seems to be a continuation of a "communications network" of the archaic desert culture, suggesting further that prehistoric Indians moved across Utah to Colorado.

Eagle traps found in rocky outcrops in the mountains of both states also adds to the theory, he said. "We know the Utes and other Indian groups caught eagles and kept them alive for feathers."