Golden

Community digs into history at Magic Mountain

Denver Museum of Nature & Science hosts public archaeological excavation digsDenver Museum of Nature & Science hosts public archaeological excavation digs

Posted 6/20/17

For two weeks, there’s been a lot of cheering at Magic Mountain.

“I’m very interested in bringing archaeology to the public,” said Dr. Michele Koons, curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “And it’s exciting …

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Golden

Community digs into history at Magic Mountain

Denver Museum of Nature & Science hosts public archaeological excavation digsDenver Museum of Nature & Science hosts public archaeological excavation digs

Posted

For two weeks, there’s been a lot of cheering at Magic Mountain.

“I’m very interested in bringing archaeology to the public,” said Dr. Michele Koons, curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “And it’s exciting to have a site right in our own backyards.”

At the top of the hour from June 10-16 and again from June 19-24, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science took participants on a community archaeological dig at Magic Mountain, near the Apex Trailhead in Golden. Participants received a general site tour, which included a brief history of the site, and an opportunity to help archaeologists excavate. Museum experts and volunteers led the tours and digs.

“Archaeological digs are just cool,” said Lakewood resident Donna Bunger. “I wanted to come out and see what they were finding.”

And finding things they were. Mostly shards — pieces of broken tools or arrowheads — and burnt bone.

There’s proof that people lived here 7,000 years ago, Koons said.

“Probably longer,” she said. “It’s very possible the first Coloradans lived here 10,000 years ago.”

The first artifacts from Magic Mountain came to the museum in 1936, Koons said. These peaked the interest of other archaeologists affiliated with the museum, particularly a husband-and-wife team, the Huschers, in the 1940s. Following in their footsteps, Cynthia Irwin-Williams, the first woman to graduate with an archaeology degree from Harvard University, formally excavated the site in 1959-60 for her dissertation to earn her PhD.

Bunger participated as a spectator during the 1996 community-based archaeology program conducted by Fort Collins-based Centennial Archaeology, Inc.

Without a background in archaeology, Bunger noticed the Magic Mountain dig included a bunch of small lots, while the one in 1996 was one big square, she said.

“My guess is that this one is more targeted,” Bunger said.

Koons got the idea for the community archaeological dig because technology has advanced so much, she said. She pitched the idea to Denver Museum of Nature & Science, which funded it as a pilot program. All of the artifacts that are recovered will be examined by Koons and will become a part of the museum.

The Golden History Museums will be hosting Koons for a lecture on the history of the archaeological site and talk on the artifacts found during this excavation in September.

Because the community-based archaeology is a pilot program, if or when another dig at Magic Mountain will happen in the near future is uncertain, Koons said.

Lindsay Hislop signed up her parents, brother, neighbors and a few friends to participate on June 14.

Most of the group lives on Lookout Mountain, so they’ve hiked Apex Trail a lot, Hislop said, and heard about the archaeological discoveries that had been made in the area in the past.

“We always knew the Magic Mountain site existed, but we didn’t know exactly where,” Hislop said. “I knew my whole family would enjoy this.”

From the 1860s to about the 1920s, much looting happened at this site, Koons said.

So the purpose of bringing archaelogy to the public, she said, is two-fold: It gives the community an opportunity to learn about how archaeology is applied and about the area’s prehistory and peoples. But it also is a way to emphasize to the public the importance of preservation efforts.

Archaeological sites are nonrenewable resources, Koons said.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness and inform people about what’s out here,” she said, “and why it’s important to preserve archaeological sites.”

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