Archaeological survey being conducted in Conejos County

CONEJOS COUNTY – The San Luis Valley has a long and rich human history, as the area served as a seasonal hunting ground to prehistoric and Native American cultures. Therefore, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, History Colorado, and the Bureau of Land Management have partnered to fund the Paleocultural Research Group (PCRG) to conduct an archaeological inventory in southeastern Conejos County.

The purpose of the project is to develop a dataset of the archaeological resources of the area. The area is rich in Native American rock art, historic homesteads, irrigation features, historic trails, Native American camps, centennial farms, ranch complexes, structures, fences, and other aspects of the cultural landscape.

The fieldwork for this project is taking place in July. During the week of July 10 the middle school students of the Junior Archaeologist Camp had the opportunity to observe the work.  During the week of July 17 the high school students of the Junior Archaeologist Camp will have a more in depth experience with the professionals conducting the survey. The Junior Archaeologist Camp is a partnership between The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the Fort Garland Museum, and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.

Interest in the archaeology of the San Luis Valley has grown over the past decade, because it is one of the most unique and well preserved cultural landscapes in the nation. However, the Valley remains one of the least studied locations in Colorado.

Victoria Martinez, executive director of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area stated that, “unfortunately, some of the sites being surveyed show signs of disturbance by local collectors, and other sites have damage due to graffiti. We hope that educating locals and visitors about the historical and cultural significance of these sites will prevent future damage.”

The volunteer team will be using various methods to record the rock art in the area including photography documentation, sketches, and 1:1-scale tracing on Mylar. Ten rock art sites have been documented in the area, of these four have been chosen for intensive documentation during this project. The PCRG research group plans to archive any culturally significant finds at The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in their repository vault.

PCRG’s Research Director Dr. Mark Mitchell, serving as principal investigator, stated that he is being assisted by Chris Johnston, assistant state archaeologist and state PAAC coordinator, PCRG Project Archaeologist Amy Nelson, and PCRG Lab Supervisor Britni Rockwell. In addition, PCRG hired two additional paid staff to supervise the survey and evaluation crews.

“The crews together will include at least 10 volunteers per day; volunteers will include both professional and avocational archaeologists. Members of the Colorado Rock Art Association supervised by at least one paid crew chief will be dedicated to rock art documentation.”

For more information about the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area visit their website at