Marker at Lindenmeier
Folsom Man Site which was partially excavated 1934-36
by the Smithsonian Institute. The site was discovered by
the Claude C. Coffin, son Lynn, and C.K. Collins in 1924.
"A Tour of the Lindenmeier/Folsom Site"
September 1, 1980
According to the transcriber, "the tape recording of speakers and participants made during the tour of the Lindenmeier site, was made to the background of mooing cows and blowing wind, so that some of the voices were unintelligible." The following is a condensed version of that transcription.
The presenters were: Dr. Elizabeth Morris, Dr. Jim and Dr. Dolores Gunnison from the University of Nebraska State Museum, Dr. David Harris, and Bob Shot. Joining the academics were three men who had worked with the Smithsonian Institute on the original dig: Jim Greenacre, Bob Easterday, and Bob Stafford.
The first speaker was Dr. David Harris, who said he'd first been at the site about thirty five years before as a young geology teacher with Major Coffin. Harris taught with Major Coffin for a year prior to his retirement and praised him for being so generous of his time and knowledge. "Coffin shared his finds of garnets up on Long Gulch, beryl up on Crystal Mountain, the Lindenmeier site . . . even his favorite fishing spot."
Coffin was one of the discoverers and early developers of the Lindenmeier site, starting in 1924. According to Harris, if they had published immediately, we would be here talking about Folsom Man, for that site was not discovered near Folsom, New Mexico until two years after the discoveries at the Lindenmeier site.
Harris outlined the geological history of the area. He began with "the white material" from the Oligocene epic of the Tertiary Period, which the participants had observed on their way to the site, saying it had special significance. When examined it would reveal volcanic rock and volcanic glass shards. So the formation is largely of volcanic origin, and because it is thick there is a lot of volcanic ash. After this white formation, the Burele, part of the White River Formation was laid down as streams coming out of the mountains carrying gravel and sands, which were deposited as a smooth surface extending eastward. All the streams flowed eastward. Here at the site a tributary of Rawhide Creek diverted the water to the south. Had this "stream capture" not taken place, the "Folsom horizon" would still be buried under about eleven feet of alluvium. The deep gully wouldn't be there and the Folsom remains would not have been discovered. "So here is a site that is both geological and archeological - one depending upon the other."
Having dealt with "thirty million years of geologic history in about fifteen minutes," Harris answered questions, about how Major Coffin happened to make the discovery. Several people pointed out that Major Coffin and his brother Judge Coffin were very interested in Indian artifacts of all kinds and often hunted for them.. One person remembered that he was trailing a bear in the area when he came upon Judge Coffin down on his hands and knees picking up arrowheads. The Coffins were very thorough and "covered every square inch of northern Colorado on foot and perhaps on hands and knees!"
Someone asked how much different the area looked in 1980 than at the time of Folsom Man, and Harris concluded by conjecturing that the amount of organic carbon in the Folsom horizon is evidence that at least the local climate was considerably more moist than the present climate. Someone then commented that there was a beautiful spring about three hundred yards down the arroyo and the water would have attracted early man.
Another person asked if the volcanic activity had killed Folsom Man, but Harris explained that the Oligocene was about thirty million years ago and Folsom Man from eight to eleven thousand years ago.
The second speaker was Dr. Elizabeth Morris. She began by conjecturing the lives of the Indians who lived in the valley bottom about 10,000 years ago. They were absolutely dependent on the local resources, mainly a now-extinct form of bison: "A very large buffalo with long, straight horns. He would resemble a modern buffalo in the way that the Texas Longhorn resembles our modern cows today."
Major Coffin, she declared, must have been a very careful researcher to find the site. In the ten years she had been doing archeological research with the help of students, they had never found a site as old or as interesting as the Lindenmeier site.
Every archeologist in the world knows about this site and so the tour group was lucky to see and hear about it on the spot. "The reason it is so important is because it is so old. Its'date of ten thousand or ten thousand five hundred years before the present is older than most of the sites in the Americas." There are sites in Europe, Africa and Asia, which are older, but in this hemisphere, few are older. "And none of them produced as many artifacts, as many spear points and knives and scrapers and skinning tools as this one."
She reminded the group that many aspects of Indian culture did not survive the ages, as did the stone artifacts made of flint, chert, petrified wood and agate. In many cases these were "beautifully flaked and shaped by methods which are beyond most of us." The men must have had a complex knowledge of tracking, stalking and killing the animals and the women been very smart to collect the wild onions, cactus fruits, nuts off the pine trees, and other foods. Their adjustments to their environment must have been delicate and educated and handed down generations after generations.
Many aspects of their lives are extrapolated on the basis of the lifestyles of the Indians when Europeans arrived on the scene. We thus imagine their religion as having to do with weather prediction, hunting conditions, and fertility. Their clothing was probably all of animal hides. It is not thought they knew much about textiles, although there is evidence dug up in the caves of places like Mesa Verde, that later people did have knowledge of weaving. Bone needles had been recovered from the site on several occasions as had other bone tools such as ribs and leg bones of animals sharpened to make awls and scrapers and other useful tools. The majority of the artifacts, however, were of stone.
Dr. Morris stated that the Fort Collins museum has "a better collection than anywhere in the world, except the Smithsonian in Washington of such artifacts." Like the Plains Indians in modern times, these people must have used every bit of the animal. She pointed out some natural features and that the excavations were made very carefully, so that as well as the beautiful spear points, the less spectacular artifacts were found. "Broken fragments take an educated eye to find and a lot of hard work goes into separating artifacts from dirt, sand and gravel."
She pointed out several other test pits and a place further downstream where thick layers of buffalo bones indicated many animals had been slaughtered at different times. Only a few fireplaces had been excavated at different points. These are important because charcoal from fireplaces can be dated by dating the radioactive remnant, and these crumbs of charcoal are how the dates of fifty-five hundred and fifty-seven hundred BC were arrived at. Because then, as now, the area was windy, some of the fireplaces held so little charcoal that the archeologists and their student helpers used tweezers to pick tiny crumbs of black charcoal out of the banks.
She briefly explained the significance of the term "Folsom people". "We can't relate them to a modern tribe but it is handy to think of them as a tribe of Indians, and . . . if the sequence of discovery has been a little different, we'd be talking about the Lindenmeier culture instead of the Folsom culture. Folsom, New Mexico, is the site where the first of these particular type of points were discovered, found in the ribs of ancient bison with the long, straight horns."
The Lindenmeier site is the largest that has ever been dug (in 1980) and some of the reports that had been written about it, mostly in the 1930s and 1940s may be seen at the museum.
Someone from the audience asked if the scientists felt they had gotten all of the artifacts out, or if they had quit. Morris answered: "They quit. Archeologists almost always run out of time and money before they finish the job." She indicated that there was probably as much remaining as had been recovered, but most is deeply buried, perhaps eleven feet under where the group was gathered. Without the arroyo the site might not have been discovered. Underneath the side of the arroyo is the bed where most of the Folsom artifacts were found as the bed comes up to the surface. People have found artifacts on the surface up there, but most of it is deeply buried.
Another question was about burials. No burials have been found, although there is a skull from Texas that is supposed to be of Folsom age. It is speculated that the burial practices might have involved scaffold burial. When bodies are thus exposed to the elements, there is nothing left for the archaeologists to discover.
As to the length of occupation, it is speculated that the Folsom people were nomadic and were in the area just part of the year and possibly not every year; perhaps only once a decade.
There was some discussion as to the site of the Coffin's first discovery. A participant described their artifact hunting technique as to walk all the bottoms and look into the banks. He also indicated that when he'd worked the sites, artifacts were found in more than one geological layer, indicting a long, if sporadic, occupation and that almost all the points were of the same type. He had himself found a "herring point," but it was three or four feet higher than the Folsom Man discoveries.
To the discussion of length of occupation, Morris commented that generally a lot of depth in a site means it was occupied over a long time, but this doesn't always hold true. Sometimes the sides of a valley can wash very rapidly and pile sand and gravel in on top of the modifications, and the same Indians can come back and clean them up and deposit this year's camp debris on top of several feet of fill.
It was then time for observations from some of the original workers: Bob Easterday, Jim Greenacre, and Bob Stafford. Easterday began by recalling that when he was there forty-three years ago, he "knew more and was wiser," but now he was less certain of his memories of the location itself. He humorously recalled that when he'd looked at old photos of the digs, he found lots of shots of the men relaxing and he thought Frank Roberts was a wonderful boss and a lenient man.
Easterday then recalled that their techniques were much the same as used today. The surface was laid out in five foot squares or sections. Each excavator worked his own section "not just gashed away with a pick and shovel, but carefully filed and crumbled and sifted through a fine screen." Every artifact was put in a separate bag and labeled according to section and depth. The depth is important in that an effort is made to see if time elements can be developed from the strata.
The crew worked from June through mid-September, when the wind became a problem. The Smithsonian provided a good cook and they rigged a shower "room" near the spring. The men enjoyed joking and playing tricks on each other and someone, inspired by the privy, wrote a poem about Folsom man and his view.
The crew varied from twelve to as many as fifteen, with visiting archeologists or geologists spending a week before moving on. It wasn't easy to get a job and Easterday said he "begged" for his job. Bob Stafford worked three summers.
One of the crew recalled it was a great thrill to uncover a Folsom point and an even greater thrill to find the point stuck into a vertebrae, or between two rib bones. Then you knew you'd found something of great value and you felt privileged. He also recalled that many people had asked him if he kept a little something for himself. "I want to assure you, that when you work for Frank Roberts, you don't keep anything."
Most of the artifacts are in the Smithsonian collection, but an excellent collection of Judge and Roy Coffin's material is in the Fort Collins Museum.
Bob laughingly recalled that the dig was so hot that the men often worked in breechcloths, but Dr. Coffin insisted they wear more clothing when visitors were coming, so the men would watch for the cloud of dust in the valley that indicated someone was coming. They'd thus have at least twenty minutes warning to put their pants on, unless someone had hidden a pair of pants so that man would have to retreat to the bushes until the company left!
Their tents were sometimes shared with some of the local fauna, such as a rattlesnake, magpie, porcupine or owl. Rattlesnakes were common. One morning lifted the wash bucket from the orange crate in which it and a washbasin were kept and found a big rattlesnake coiled behind the bucket. They'd often see a cow with a football-size swelling on its head or neck from a snake bite. The cowboys would cut the swelling open with his pocketknife and the cows would survive.
Easterday concluded the program by saying it had been a nostalgic day for the three men who had been part of the original digs. He would ask the bus driver to take them to the area where the tents had stood so they could pose for pictures and answer questions.