The Game Drives of Rocky Mountain National Park

By Wilke, Philip J. | Plains Anthropologist, November 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Game Drives of Rocky Mountain National Park


Wilke, Philip J., Plains Anthropologist


The Game Drives of Rocky Mountain National Park. By JAMES B. BENEDICT. Research Report No. 7. Center for Mountain Archeology, Ward, CO. 1996. xiii + 110 pp., 65 figures, 9 tables, $22.00 (paper). Since the Upper Paleolithic the entrapment of large game with natural or built structures probably provided more meat on a regular basis than did the efforts of individual hunters. Recent years have seen many reports on the archaeology of such sites in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world.

This volume continues the long series of studies by James Benedict of big-game drive sites at and above the upper timberline in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. No one else possesses a more thorough range of skills, background, and patience for interpreting these sites. Benedict's approach involves complete treatments of relevant history, ethnography, comparative ethnology, animal behavior, and the geology, geomorphology, climate, weather, and biology of the high country. His research demands perseverence; many study trips were made to the sites reported here, each time armed with additional information obtained during the previous visit.

The published result is a testament to the need for patience. It is a handsome and thorough presentation of all available background and surface archaeological data in a format that is easy to read and clearly shows exactly how the author reached his interpretations. Aerial photographs with red overprinting and photographs of nearly all of the diagnostic artifacts aid the presentation. The volume details studies at two of the four known biggame drive sites in Rocky Mountain National Park-the Trail Ridge Game Drive and the Flattop Mountain Game Drive.

The Trail Ridge Game Drive extends upward from timberline to a narrow, natural saddle or pass (elevation 3500 m). Three stone walls span this distance and converge at a former ambush site. Several stone blinds are positioned at favorable shooting points to intercept animals moving up into the saddle. Today elk favor the forested terrain just downslope from the funnel, as shown by a survey of fecal pellet groups. Benedict argues that elk were hunted here in prehistory and that 15-20 people could have operated the trap effectively. Surface finds of three Hogback corner-notched arrow points date use of the drive to the Late Prehistoric period, a conclusion reinforced by studies of weathering of the granite structural stones. AMS dates of 4590 and 2610 radiocarbon years were obtained on charcoal in core samples taken from two of the blinds and suggest those structures were used during the Middle and Late Archaic periods.

The Flattop Mountain Game Drive is much larger and more complex. This immense array consists of no less than 14 stone walls, 848 cairns, and 90 blinds extending from 3350 to 3720 m in elevation over a distance of about 1700 m. The drive system is on sloping terrain along the clifflike canyon wall of Tyndall Gorge, which thus forms one wing of a huge complex that is interpreted to consist of nine or more individual trap systems. A camp and butchery area is at the far (lower) end of this layout. Semicircular blinds indicate (predictably) that the direction of animal approach was downwind along the gorge.

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