(light upbeat music) (pensive music) – [Mark] The tangible
past is preserved right under people’s feet. And it’s amazing to
think that evidence, traces of people’s
lives 1,500 years ago are preserved two
inches under the surface that we’re walking
around on now. – The mother of
Front Range sites. – One of the most important
archeological sites in the Denver region. – Before Magic Mountain, archeologists didn’t
have a really good idea about what cultural phases
looked like on the Front Range. It’s incredible to think about how long these
sites were occupied. – [Morning] To go
through the history and to find out who was here and what their
lifestyle was like, I think it’s important to
keep the history alive. – [Michele] This place
is a special place. There’s just some sort
of energy about it. It is a magical place. – [Announcer] This
program was made possible by the History Colorado
State Historical Fund. – [Announcer] Supporting
projects throughout the state to preserve, protect,
and interpret Colorado’s architectural
and archeological treasures. History Colorado
State Historical Fund. Create the future,
honor the past. – [Announcer] With additional
funding provided in memory of Deanna E. La Camera, The Benedict Family Foundation
in memory of Dr. Jim Benedict, and members like you. With special thanks to the
Denver Public Library, History Colorado, the Colorado Office of Film,
Television, and Media, and to these organizations (soft piano music) (harp flourishing)
(bright piano music) (ambient music) – [Nathan] No one is surprised that Colorado was a
popular place to move. Well, it’s been popular
for thousands of years. The word has gotten
out a long time ago. – We know very little about
the culture of the people that lived thousands of
years ago in Colorado, but we do know something
about how they lived. We do know something about the kinds of plants and
animals they harvested, how they moved
across the landscape, where they’d been and
where they were going to. They were all hunter-gatherers, but they changed how
they utilized the
landscape over time. It was adapting to
changes in technology, adapting to changes in climate, and it was adapting to who else was on the landscape with them. – There are different
groups of people, probably related and
interacting in different ways, all up and down the Front Range. – [Nathan] Up to
near Fort Collins, all the way down
through Douglas County, you get these
outcroppings of rocks that happened from the geologic
lift millions of years ago. But you’ve got these really
nice, protected microclimates that are back there. – It’s a little bit
warmer than the plains and it’s also warmer
than the mountains and you’re sorta protected
in that hogback valley, you’re right next
to a water source, and so it creates this really
comfortable place to live. – So, Native Americans have
obviously known about this for thousands of years. – [Michele] This
particular location has been a crossroads forever, and it’s right at
the intersection of the mountains and the plains, so there’s kind of
this nexus happening. – That connection to the
land continued through time, not only through the native
peoples who lived there, but then on into the time
when settlers were here, trying to get up
into the mountains. This became a gateway
to the mountains, a place where people
could resupply before they headed over the
hills to the mining towns. – The only way that we
can answer questions about the deep past, long before there were
historical records, and long before the social
memory of tribal groups, is to use archeology
to answer them. There’s an amazing
amount of archeology in the ground all
around Colorado, and finding those
archeological sites is key to answering
the questions. – [Nathan] And that’s
what’s really exciting, ’cause then you’d start
to knit it together, and we’re able to start
connecting the dots. (acoustic guitar music) The area that we know
as Magic Mountain was a big part of the geography
of the Colorado Gold Rush. When you think of
the settlement, big cities and
settlements really happen on bays, on access to
water, or on riverways. In Colorado, you wanna be set
up close to the mountains. So, as individuals were
coming here for the Gold Rush after the discoveries
in 1858 and 1859, there’s just a crush of people who were coming out
of the Denver region. And Golden is known as one
of the last flat spaces before you hit the
Rocky Mountains, so it was a really big, popular
space as a start-off point. – [Michele] We do know that
there was a town called Apex. – And you go could
right charging up through the
middle through Apex, and it would take
you directly up through a natural canyon there that had existed for
thousands of years. As the Anglo settlers came in, they just started taking over these different pieces of land. It didn’t take very
long for these settlers to start to discover
that there were actually Native American objects
on their property. – And we do have some
newspaper accounts that mention that there was an
archeological site. – [Jennifer] They’d
find pottery shards, or projectile points. – Between the 1860s
and the 1920s, archeology was very
much in its infancy. We didn’t have
the best practices and the ethics
that we have today. – That meant the loss of a lot of important archeological
evidence that, sort of, ended up on a lot of
people’s mantelpieces. You lose all that context. But people didn’t
know that at the time. – We don’t actually
see formal archeology for quite some time. (plucked string music) In the 1930s, volunteers
and associates with the Denver Museum
of Nature & Science were out at the site and
picked up some artifacts and brought them
back to the museum. This was the first
artifacts that went from the Apex site
into a museum. In 1940 and 1941,
museum-affiliated archeologists Betty and Harold Huscher
went out to the site to kinda do some more
formal studies. But this was still really
early in the age of archeology, and what they did was not
really up to the standards that we would expect today. We still have some of
those artifacts here, but they didn’t leave
us very much information on what they found. So, for the next 20 years or so, the site was not touched by
professional archeologists. (bright plucked string music) Cynthia Irwin-Williams
had been a mentee of Hannah Marie Wormington, who was the first
curator at the museum. And Wormington had done
all kinds of archeology in this region. She was a really formative
figure in Colorado archeology, and Irwin-Williams grew up,
really, underneath of her, coming to the
museum all the time, really soaking it all in. Cynthia Irwin-Williams
and her brother knew about the Apex site, and they realized that it
could offer more context to the regional archeology, so that’s when they decided
to do the excavation. – [Holly] They opened up
what we call block units, and they’re just these
really immense, big squares, that they were taking
down, level by level. – [Michele] They
didn’t necessarily find a lot of features or structures, but they really were able to look at the
stratigraphic levels. So, there’s different
levels of dirt, and soils, and how that builds
up over time, and find different
kinds of tools associated with those
different levels. – The Irwins
provided a foundation that allowed other archeologists
to look at other sites, and compare and contrast it. And so it was the
foundation that allowed us to take information from other
sites and other time periods, and start building a
more complex narrative of prehistory on
the Front Range. (plucked string music) – From the landscape
perspective, everything changed in the 1950s. – In 1955, Disneyland
opens in California, and it is almost
immediately a huge success. There were a few
different splinter groups, including one that was called
the Magic Mountain Company, that wanted to create
these, sort of, satellite knock-off,
Disney-inspired parks. This company came
to the Denver area. They started planning
in the late 1950s to create this space
in the Golden area they called Magic Mountain. It was this huge behemoth idea. There was a Storybook Land. There was, of course,
a huge Western area. There was a main
street downtown. So, it was a huge park, and it was incredibly
costly endeavor. So, major, major undertaking, that really was not resourced
enough from the outset. They finally actually
opened on June 30th of 1960. – Irwin-Williams changed
the name to Magic Mountain, because it was right in that
same timeframe, late 1950s, when Magic Mountain
Incorporation had bought up all of that land, and was developing
the amusement park, so that’s why the
site was changed from Apex site to
Magic Mountain. – It operates for
about three months, it closes after Labor
Day and it never reopens. – When the amusement
park bought the land, they channelized Apex Creek, so that it’s now very straight, and diverted water from the
way that it naturally flowed. We now see all kinds
of trees out there which were never there before, and so the landscape
really changed dramatically just in the last 60 years or so. (pensive plucked string music) In the late 1970s, the
housing development that sits right next to the site was just starting
to be constructed. – That entire hillside
and that entire creek bed were going to have houses
built on top of it. – There are bulldozers coming
up to, practically, the site. And some folks realized that this could threaten
their archeological site. And so, they were
able to nominate it for the National Register
of Historic Places. – It’s not a protection measure, but it’s the sort of
designation that allows a local municipality
like Golden to say, “You’re right,
this is important. “This is important
to us as a community. “It’s important to the
state and to the nation.” – That really ensured the
protection of the site for generations to come. We really did have a
chance that it would be lost without that nomination. (slow plucked string music) – The first archeological
grants for Magic Mountain were given in 1994 and 1996
to Centennial Archeology, by the State Historical Fund. One of the things
that they found in the course of
their excavations were rock walls. This was really rather stunning, because it indicated that people were staying put
at Magic Mountain, much longer than we’d
previously thought. Kind of the model that people
had in their heads was that people were camping
in different areas and moving on pretty quickly. But these walls indicate
that people were staying put, probably for entire seasons. (footsteps tapping) – I started at the museum
as a curator in 2013, and it was really
a dream of mine to be able to do
public archeology and get the public
involved in this thing I’m so super passionate about. – Michele Koons approached me about the possibility of
doing a collaborative project between Paleocultural
Research Group and the Denver Museum
of Nature & Science. We both have interests
in citizen science, and we both have a lot
of common interests in the archeology of the region, and so we got our heads together
and started thinking about the questions we were most
interested in answering, and how we might work together. And that was the beginning of
the Magic Mountain project. We wanna know something
about the past, and so all the fieldwork we do, all the pre-fieldwork we do, is guided by our
research design, by the questions we wanna ask. – Where you’re going
to be excavating, why you’re excavating there, and when it’s gonna be
appropriate to stop. So, not only for
answering your questions, but for future
preservation of the site. – One of the things
that’s been really big for field archeology has been the development
of what are called remote-sensing technologies, or geophysical-survey
technologies. To get some sense of what the subsurface looks
like without excavating. It makes us more
efficient in the field, and it’s really a
conservation measure. It’s really a
step-by-step process, starting with big questions
and then focusing in on what kind of archeology
is there in the ground that allows us to answer them. Many of the questions
that we started with were based on prior
work at the site. (voices murmuring)
(footsteps crunching) – One of the major
shifts we’ve seen in 21st-century science, is this attempt to
engage the citizens, and engage the public. – For archeologists,
one of the primary ways that they do this is
through what we call public archeology programs, that really allows the public
to actually do archeology. So, they’re allowed to come in, and they’re allowed to
get messy, and dirty, and to dig up this
significant material culture. They’re also expected to
take on the responsibility of taking notes, and
writing down what they see, and doing things in the
appropriate methods, so that we know that
there’s integrity to that scientific data. And there’s public archeology
programs all over the country, but this one with Magic
Mountain is really special. The scale and the
scope of this project is the largest that I know of. It really gives us
a better picture than the traditional
20th-century idea
of the single expert who is usually giving his
interpretation of what he sees, and that’s the end all be all. Human life is messy, and
it’s always been messy, and it’s always
been complicated, and it’s always been diverse, and so we need that diversity
of the public, of experts, of people with
different identities and different positionalities, throwing their opinions
and their ideas in. – We reached out to families
so they could get up there and spend the day
with our archeologists to really get a
feel for something that they might not otherwise
have had a chance to do. We reached out to
our volunteers. Some of our volunteers
would be doing the archeological work, and those are the
ones who came to us with background and expertise in archeological
techniques and digging. – There were 70 volunteers
in some capacities over the two seasons that
we were really out there. And, oh my gosh,
volunteers are just vital to the whole process. Like, we could not do
this without volunteers. – And we opened up the
tours to all of the public. There are people for whom this
is right in their backyard, and they had no idea this kind of archeological
site was there. The tours were for free, and they could learn
about the area, learn about the
archeology, see the site, and then ultimately
dig themselves. There were university
groups at the time who were also coming out there and lending information
to the site. In addition, we wanted to
reach out to youth groups who wouldn’t have an
opportunity otherwise to get access to
this kind of site. – Prior to the project, we sent out letters
to representatives
of all of the tribes that have historical affiliation
with the state of Colorado, inviting them to
come to the dig, to share with us their thoughts
on the history of the site, their particular associations
with their tribes. We had representatives from
five different tribes come, and from some of those
conversations in 2017, we started the teen
internship for 2018 to bring in Native teens
to help out on the project. – I’m Native American,
I’m Navajo and Lakota. The area was indigenous land, so I thought that was really
cool to be exploring the land that people who are indigenous
of this land lived in. The Native-teen internship
provides opportunities for students in high school. And when they were
describing it to me, you’re gonna be
looking at artifacts, you’re gonna be out in the field actually working with
the people who do this, hands on, doing it yourself, I just thought
that was something I should take
advantage of and do. It sounded cool. Not a lot of teens in general,
and especially Native teens, have experiences
and opportunities to
take advantage of, like archeology and excavating. (metallic scraping) – [Holly] These were
incredible days. (bright plucking string music) – [Michele] We had over 3,000
people come visit the site. – [Morning] I was out
there for five days a week, for June and July in
the summer of 2018. I learned that you need
to have perseverance and work really hard and,
you know, have fun as well. ‘Cause we’re working, like,
10 hours a day on the field. – The kids were
sifting for things, and they were playing around with these archeological
techniques. It’s a great space
like that to really understand how fragile some of the
archeological finds can be. So, we’d have the sieves
that they could use, but instead of
archeological objects, we would use potato chips. Then, when they went up to
work with the archeologists, they’d have that firmly
in their experience, and they could be
very, very gentle as they were trying
those techniques. – You would look for
any little minerals, any projectile points,
bones, anything like that. And then if you found something, you would take it and
then they would examine to make sure it’s, you
know, not just a rock, which is exciting ’cause
you’re just digging all day, and then when you finally
find something it’s like, the prize of the
day or something. – It’s like, addicting, right? You’re like, “Oh my gosh,
this is so interesting!” “There’s this piece of the
puzzle that I may be able to, “like, fit it in
where it belongs.” It kind of bites you, like
a bug, right? (laughs) (metallic scraping) – But sometimes the
emotion is frustrating. As archeologists we struggle
with navigating that line between investigating
something scientifically and preserving it. One of the complexities
of archeology is that it’s
ultimately destructive. Today, we’re really
mindful of making sure that we’re collecting enough
data, and digging enough holes, that we can answer our
research questions, but that we’re also
protecting the site for future researchers. – The key thing is what
archeologists call context. It’s not the
artifacts themselves, it’s how they’re associated, what artifacts are
associated with living areas; features, fire hearths. – Typically, once
something is dug up, once it is taken out of
those layers of dirt, unless that information
is written down, it loses all context. And so you can’t actually simply just put stuff back in
the hole it came out of. – We knew from prior work that there’d been extensive
disturbance of the site, and so we expected it then. As it happened, the part of
the site we were working in, is almost pristine. That was big surprise. How intact, how pristine the
archeological deposits are, makes Magic Mountain
an incredible resource. When Michele and I first started thinking about this project, we had a couple of big goals. One of the goals, and probably
the most important goal, was to understand a time
period that archeologists call the Early Ceramic. From about 200
C.E. to about 1000. And it was a time
of really important social and technological
and economic change. New technologies
were introduced. The bow and arrow came in. Pottery came in. And people began
using the landscape in a really different way. And they organized their social
groups in a different way. And so it’s a really
dynamic period, and we just don’t know that
much about it in Colorado. – We know that there was
lots of reuse of this site. We know these people were
mobile people for the most part, and so what does that look like? Is it a seasonal use only, or
were they there year round? And these are some of the things that we’re still grappling with. Some of our radiocarbon
dates are showing that some of these
fire pits that we found were used that whole span. And so people were
constantly using this site. – So, it was a
very stable system. They enjoyed, in general,
a fairly good climate. The Early Ceramic was a good
time to be a Coloradoan, and we see that
at Magic Mountain. So, one of our main goals was to understand the Early Ceramic. The other goal was to understand the earliest
occupation at the site. Old sediment, old
dirt is hard to find. – And so, in three parts of
the site, we dug really deep. And it was in one of
those really deep layers, we were able to correlate
radiocarbon dates from the soil that we found, and realized that
we had artifacts that matched up to that layer. And we were able to say, “Wow, people were here at
this particular time period.” – About 9,000 years
old, that special. – And it is like a
needle in the haystack to find that kind
of association. – And that gives
us a window on to that early occupation
in Colorado. It’s a time period
that archeologists call the Late Paleoindian Period. Thousands of years after the first American Indians
arrived in Colorado, but it’s still a
deep time period that we don’t understand
very much about. We know that they
were bison hunters, and we know that they
moved across the landscape, but because very few of
their sites are preserved, we don’t know very much
about where they came from, what they were doing
when they were here. A bit of a mystery. Magic Mountain might
give us a bit of a window on that earliest time period. (metallic buzzing) We’re continuing to
work on the project. We have discoveries
in the field, but a lot of the hard work of
archeology happens in the lab. We’ll try to answer
as best we can the questions that
we started with. – We have ceramics from
the Ceramic Period, the different kinds
of stone tools. We have a piece of ground
stone for grinding, usually, some kind of
vegetable material. Most of what we’re seeing happens to be local
for this time period, and so we’re thinking, well, maybe they weren’t as
mobile as we once thought. – Every field project always
generates new questions, new surprises. It’s the nature
of science, right? You discover things that you
didn’t know about before. It really never ends. We’re trying to understand
Native American occupations that were contemporaneous
with Magic Mountain, and we wanna compare ’em. The story really lies
in that, sort of, build up of context, not only within a
site, but across sites that are occupied
at the same time. And we also wanna look at the
sequence of sites through time to see how things changed. – So, maybe we’ll be going
back to Magic Mountain. We have a lot of
archeological evidence from 2018 and the years
before, still to analyze. But we have literally
scraped the surface. – [Mark] But we know that
things are gonna change. The process of archeological
research is going to change. But the piece that
we’re working on today is part of that long
chain of understanding that builds up over time. And that’s why preservation
is so important. – One of the discussions
that we’ve been having, was how best to
preserve this site, to protect it but also to let
people know that it’s there. – There’s kind of two schools
of thought in archeology. There’s this
ignorance is best. Ignorance is bliss. And we won’t let anyone know
that this archeological site is right under people’s feet. – But if you don’t
have these places where people can
come and be inspired, how are you ever going to
get your message across that they’re worth saving? And I think that
that’s what the value of something like
Mesa Verde does, and really I think
that’s kind of what has been emerging
at Magic Mountain, is that this is inspirational. – [Michele] We’re sorta
taking this approach, well, if people
are excited by it, they’re gonna wanna protect it, they’re gonna want it to be
there for their grandchildren, and for generations to come. – As a result, the Magic Mountain
Community Archeology Project has won the Award for
Excellence in Public Education from the Society for
American Archaeology. That’s a big deal. That’s what’s gonna preserve
archeology in the long term, is the citizens of the
state, of the country, caring about it. – We’re all in this together, and we all have responsibility to protect the
cultural heritage, and to be able to be good
stewards of the past, to just be aware of that
relationship with artifacts, and what they might
mean in context, versus what they
mean on your mantle, and think about how that
is a little tiny piece of a much bigger puzzle. – The archeology that’s
in the ground in Colorado, it’s really our only
direct tangible connection to the distant
past of the state. And how people made a living
here in the past, it matters. We should care about
how climate change, and how technological change, and how social change
affected people in the past. We’re still subject
to all those sources, and understanding
how people coped with changes like
that in the past, is relevant to us. It’s also important to
preserve the heritage of the people that have
called Colorado home for thousands of years. – And a project like this
doesn’t exist in a vacuum, or it doesn’t
exist in isolation. It exists as part of a long,
long history of connection. – Magic Mountain
is not one thing. It’s the story of many people. – [Nathan] Magic Mountain
really talks about the continuous changing
nature of Colorado. – Having that appreciation
and depth of understanding that we’re not the
first people here. really does make us
better people today. – At the end of the
day, it’s about people. And it’s about
understanding ourselves, and who we are today,
and how we got here, and why it’s really
important for us to take care of each other, and take care of our
world that we all share, and that we are stewards of for
a very short period of time. (gentle orchestral music) (bright piano music) (harp flourishing)
(bright piano music)