On a quiet hill south of Dove Creek archaeologists are digging into the history of Southwest Colorado and the ancient civilizations that left behind their artifacts and mysteries.
Located at upper Squaw Point near Squaw Canyon, the Champagne Springs (Greenlee) dig is a relative newcomer on the scene in terms of archaeological investigation in Montezuma and Dolores counties; however, the information being unearthed at the site is shifting perspectives on the Ancestral Puebloans, their lifestyle, history and communities.
Dating back to 900-1100 A.D., the dig has been classified as an early Pueblo II era site, a rare find in the San Juan Region, according to head archaeologist David Dove. That classification lends the site an additional aura of mystery as Pueblo II sites are rare in the archaeological record.
“Everything we are finding is so new because there is so little data on that time period,” Dove said. “I believe this will come to be an important site as there are not many sites in this time period in the entire Northern San Juan region.”
The Pueblo II era precedes the time frame which produced the famed cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, yet the archaeological record has little to say about Ancestral Puebloan communities in Montezuma and Dolores counties during that time period.
Surprisingly, the Champagne Springs site is not mentioned in any records of archaeological exploration of the Four Corners, though there is anecdotal evidence that some historical researchers were aware of the site, Dove said. As a result, the site has laid undisturbed for centuries, without the hindrance of treasure hunters and tourists.
First researched in the early 2000s by Don Dove, David’s father, Champagne Springs was quickly recognized as a significant research opportunity. Don Dove was the primary archaeologist from 2002 through 2008, after which David Dove took over responsibilities at the site, which he now owns. Don Dove passed away two years ago, and David views the field work at Champagne Springs as an opportunity to continue his father’s legacy.
“This is a large Pueblo II community, one of the largest that has been discovered,” Dove said, standing at the site last week. “We are learning so much and this is really a very fascinating site.”
Complete station mapping and remote sensing scans, along with ground penetrating radar allowed the team to lay out a fairly comprehensive picture of the site in 2003 and 2004. What was revealed through those studies was an expansive site larger than anyone anticipated.
“This is a big site, especially for the time period,” Dove said. “There are 250 rooms in the living structures alone, plus over 50 kivas. So that is over 300 rooms at this one site.”
Limited excavation began in 2004 on a feature of the site name the Great Kiva. Surrounded by clusters of other kivas, the structured seemed to be the ceremonial heart of the community.
“The structures are arranged in a different format than you see in other communities of this time period,” Dove said. “It is very unique.”
Since the first excavations, Dove and an army of volunteers, along with grants and support from the Colorado Historical Society, the Colorado Archaeological Society, the Arizona Archaeological society and Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois universities, have begun partial excavations on many of the other structures at the site. Five structures are currently being excavated and those working on the site are amazed at what is being uncovered.
“We are finding large amounts of deer and elk bones that have been cooked, and other animals,” Dove said. “This group of people ate very well and we are seeing all sorts of evidence of that. We know pottery, beautiful pottery, was made here, and jewelry and sewing needles, and arrowheads. It is just remarkable.”
Much of the work at the dig is being completed by volunteers from chapters of the Colorado and Arizona archaeological societies. Dove views his site as a field school where professional and amateur archaeologists alike can be part of discovering history.
Every artifact discovered at the dig is carefully recorded and processed, to allow for a full accounting of the excavation of the site. Dove said he hopes the site will yield answers to many of the questions archaeologists and historians harbor regarding the Pueblo II era.
“I would like to know more about their subsistence,” Dove said. “How did they live and farm and hunt? Was this place occupied continuously? How big was the population? I would especially love to be able to link the community here with other communities and understand where they came from and where they went when they left.”
For now, many of the answers to Dove’s questions lie beneath the loose soil of Southwest Colorado. But the answers are there, and Dove intends to find them.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]