Frontiers in Colorado Paleoindian Archaeology: From the Dent Site to the Rocky Mountains

By Fisher, Jack | Plains Anthropologist, August 2008 | Go to article overview
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Frontiers in Colorado Paleoindian Archaeology: From the Dent Site to the Rocky Mountains


Fisher, Jack, Plains Anthropologist


Frontiers in Colorado Paleoindian Archaeology: From the Dent Site to the Rocky Mountains. Edited by ROBERT H. BRUNSWIG and BONNIE L. PITBLADO. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, 2007. xviii + 364 pp., figures, tables, bibliography. $60 (cloth, ISBN 978-0-87081-890-5)

Reviewed by Jack Fisher, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Montana State University

This informative book focuses on two facets of Paleoindian archaeology in Colorado. One of these is the Dent site, where excavations in 1932 and 1933 yielded skeletal remains of 15 mammoth and a small set of Clovis artifacts. Recent analyses of tusks, bones, and artifacts from Dent present important new information and insights about this heretofore poorly known site. secondly, several chapters cover the current trajectory of Paleoindian studies in Colorado.

The book's ten chapters are divided into three sections. The first of these, consisting of two chapters, sets the environmental and archaeological contexts for the remainder of the book. The following four chapters examine the Dent site, and the final four chapters present recent research endeavors in the Rocky Mountains. An afterword by George Frison offers a personal perspective on important individuals and accomplishments in Colorado Paleoindian archaeology by a leader in North American Paleoindian studies.

This book certainly will be of importance to archaeologists who have an interest in Paleoindian occupation of North America. In addition, archaeologists studying hunter-gatherers from any time period will find several chapters to be of relevance - notably those having a strong methodological component (paleoenvironmental reconstruction, site structure, etc.).

James P. Doerner presents a useful environmental overview of the Colorado Front range, from 25,000 years ago to the present. He starts by describing the present-day physical environment, including climate and vegetation zones. He goes on to examine the late Pleistocene glacial chronologies, and summarizes paleoecological studies conducted in the Front Range, and summarizes paleoenvironmental conditions during the late Pleistocene and at various intervals during the Holocene.

Bonnie L. Pitblado and Robert H. Brunswig present a history of Colorado's Paleoindian research. They identify three phases, "Early Exploratory Surveys and Excavations (ca. 1930-1960)", "Site-focused Research (196Os-198Os)", and "Colorado Paleoindian Research Programs (late 1980s to the present)". Noteworthy discoveries during the first phase include the Dent site, where mammoth bones were excavated with associated projectile points that would come to be named Clovis from later discoveries at Blackwater Draw, New Mexico; and the Lindenmeier site. E. B. Renaud's program of archaeological survey, spanning 1930-1946, created a foundation for subsequent Paleoindian studies in Colorado. Pitblado and Brunswig provide an informative site-by-site discussion of investigations at Clovis, Folsom, and later Paleoindian sites that transpired during the second phase of Colorado Paleoindian archaeology. A high proportion of important sites investigated during this period are situated in the Colorado plains, although some research was being conducted in the Rocky Mountains proper. The third phase has seen a strong shift in geographic emphasis to investigations in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

Robert Brunswig leads with the first of four chapters concerning the Dent site. He gives an informative review of the geology, dating, archaeology, and history of research - which began in 1932, with short, follow-up investigations in 1973 and continuing in the 1980s and 1990s. This chapter sets the stage for the following three chapters that examine more narrowly focused aspects of the site. Brunswig concludes that Dent dates to about 11,000 radiocarbon years ago. Brunswig presents various scenarios to account for the death of the Dent mammoths; he thinks it likely that they died in two or more ambush kills by Clovis hunters during late fall and early winter.

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