The first archaeological survey in more than 60 years of the historic Lindenmeier valley, a National Historic Landmark, has resulted in the discovery of many additional archaeological resources spread over approximately 6,000 acres of lands in the Laramie Foothills. Artifacts found from the area provide ample evidence that it has been occupied by humans for more than 13,000 years, dating back to the last years of the Ice Age.
The last major study and excavation of the Lindenmeier valley, located north of Fort Collins, was conducted from 1935 to 1940 by the Smithsonian Institute before a team headed by Colorado State archaeology professor Jason LaBelle returned to the area in the summer of 2006. LaBelle’s team, consisting of graduate students from Colorado State University and Southern Methodist University, as well as volunteers from the Colorado Archaeological Society, recorded a rich array of resources including chipped stone scatters, stone-circle (tipi) villages, hearths and earth ovens, and animal butchery sites. Artifacts of recent history such as cowboy camps, historic engravings and items from 1920s- and 1930s-era excavations were also found and documented. The Lindenmeier valley was first discovered by the Coffin family in 1924.
Following significant land conservation efforts in the Laramie Foothills that included protection of the Lindenmeier valley on Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County and Colorado State University formed a partnership to complete an archaeological survey. Two grants totaling approximately $50,000 were received from the State Historical Fund, a program of the Colorado Historical Society, combined with dollars from the partners involved to fund the survey in 2006
"Excavations between the 1920s and 1940 found an incredibly rich array of archaeological resources at the Lindenmeier site, but we don’t know much about the lands surrounding Lindenmeier," LaBelle said. "In our survey this summer, we were able to identify many additional resources outside of the half-mile originally explored."
The Lindenmeier valley is located on lands recently protected as part of the Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains Project, a partnership between the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County, The Nature Conservancy, Legacy Land Trust, private landowners and Great Outdoors Colorado. This project protects over 29 square-miles of shortgrass prairie and foothills shrublands and includes Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space. The land protection project ensured preservation of the phenomenal archaeological resources, LaBelle said.
Other finds of note include a Native American campsite dating to the late 18th or early 19th century (1775-1825). Native American traders made stone tools for processing hides, while at the same time using European-style technology.
LaBelle and his team spent the summer conducting a survey of the lands and used that information to create computer-generated three-dimensional maps of the site distributions as related to area topography. Newly discovered sites were plotted and overlaid onto maps which documented original excavation efforts. The team also re-created photographs taken by original archaeologists to determine how the Lindenmeier valley had changed over the past half-century through erosion.
The main goal of the survey effort is to collect and interpret data that will inform management plans for the properties and to ensure protection of these sites into the future, as well as to provide information for education purposes.
LaBelle and his team will return to the area in May 2007 to conduct further research and to provide the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County information regarding sensitive areas of Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain, as they develop management plans for the area.