Digging Up the Past: WSC Archaeological Site Tours Unearth Stories of Gunnison’s Own Ancient Civilization
July 20, 2009 -- It takes a mere 15 minutes to go from the Western State College campus to a world-class archeological site.
When you add in the fact that the site contains the oldest known permanent dwelling in the United States, it becomes even more impressive. Did I mention that it is at the top of a mountain?
The Mountaineer Site atop “W Mountain” is something to see. And, thanks to the WSC Anthropology Department, anyone in the Gunnison area can check out the site via a free tour, which runs through July 29.
It’s a bumpy ride up, but well worth it. Megan Jamison, a WSC senior who is finishing up her studies in the Anthropology department, took myself and some Gunnison locals to the top of W Mountain this past week. The mountain is owned by Western, which makes the site even more suited for course study. As we arrive to the top of the mountain, we see WSC students digging in a new area of study for their field school.
Casey Dukeman, lecturer in anthropology, is our guide for the two-hour tour. Dukeman is well seasoned in his knowledge of the site and uses mannerisms and language that appeal to both the adults and children in our crew.
Dukeman is clearly proud of the site and shares his knowledge, which includes: tidbits about extinctions of animals; how humans lived 10, 500 years ago; and the types of tools that the people used to hunt bison and the various game that fed those living at the top of W Mountain so long ago.
He describes the Folsom Period, which was 9, 500 to 10, 500 years ago – the timeframe that makes up the site. Folsom people lived atop W Mountain in a “wiki-up,” which was essentially a mud-filled tipi -type structure. The landscape on the mountain was filled with pinion pine trees versus the sagebrush that dominates now.
Dukeman is filled with information about the site and paints a picture of what life was like 10, 500 years ago on the mountain. What he is most proud of is that the students from Western get to do the majority of the digging.
“We’ve really got a great opportunity to dig up real artifacts at Western,” said Ed Morrison, a senior at Western who is doing his field school at the Mountaineer Site.
In addition to WSC courses studying and digging up on the mountain this summer, several other colleges have been to site. Also, staff from the Smithsonian Museum recently visited the site. In the spring of 2008, Mark Stiger, professor of anthropology, was featured on the History Channel program, 10, 000 B.C., talking about the site. Stiger is also the principle investigator of the site.
To book a tour, call the anthropology lab at (970) 943-7013.
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations