Uncovering the Mysteries of Colorado's Ancient Basketmakers

The Basketmaker peoples lived in today’s Mesa Verde, Colorado, between 500-725 A.D., and lay the groundwork for future Pueblo society. Researchers are digging up the past to learn about the shift from Southwestern hunter-gatherer societies into agricultural economies. Volunteers will assist in the excavation and surveying of archaeological sites, and cataloging artifacts like pottery, lithics and bones.

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What to Expect?

Dig into the archaeology of Colorado’s Basketmaker communities to help uncover clues about the Neolithic Revolution and these ancient peoples.

Around the globe, humans made a critical transition from hunting and gathering to farming and agriculture. This radical change in lifestyle set in motion a number of transformations in human population size, social organization, and human-environmental relationships. Despite its importance, the reasons for this transition are poorly understood because of gaps in archaeological knowledge.

The Mesa Verde region, located in Southwest Colorado, is ideal for studying this critical transition which occurred in this area during the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500-750). The Pueblo people, who still live in the U.S. Southwest today, are the direct descendants of the Basketmakers; this means it may be possible to trace the origins of ancient Basketmaker III communities to contemporary Pueblo societies. You’ll join a group of archaeologists at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, located in Cortez, Colorado, to take part in hands-on archaeological field work by excavating the largest known Basketmaker III community in the region.

Most days, you’ll arrive at the dig immediately after breakfast, and spend much of the day working with hand trowels, brooms, buckets, and screens to remove and identify artifacts and other archaeological data. Your work may focus on the excavation of Basketmaker III period homes, middens (trash deposits), and the great kiva (the central structure that served as a gathering place for the community). In addition to excavation, you may help with remote sensing surveys which identify likely areas of archaeological significance. Remote sensing tools are used to identify features that may have been overlooked by standard survey techniques.

Back at the laboratory, you’ll assist with washing, sorting, cataloging, and labeling artifacts such as pottery, lithics (stone tools), ground stone, faunal bone, and other forms of material culture. In the evenings, you’ll attend programs, including an introduction to Crow Canyon’s research, presentations by staff archaeologists, and guest lecturers on current research in Southwestern archaeology. When you’re not excavating doing lab work, or learning about the archaeology of the Mesa Verde region, you’ll be free to enjoy the beauty of the “Four Corners” of the American Southwest.

You’ll explore local restaurants and museums, or explore some of the iconic sites of the area including Hovenweep and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments. Crow Canyon is also within a short distance of Mesa Verde National Park. Established as the Nation’s first archaeological park in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park is home to 13th-century ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings including Cliff Palace and Balcony House.

  • Program ID: # 1834
  • duration:
    1 to 2 Weeks
  • location:
    Indian Camp Ranch Durango , CO
    United States
    37° 20' 55.9788" N, 108° 35' 9.3336" W
    Colorado US
  • Fitness level:
    Light Impact
    Moderately Fit
    Very Fit
  • Closest Airport:
    Please contact program
  • Costs From:
    $1500 to $3000
  • Program Type:
    Community Development Projects
    Environmental & Wildlife Programs
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