Seven Ancestral Puebloan Sites Unearthed In Southwestern Colorado

An archaeological dig in the Mountain West has unearthed several giant sites of Native American ruins. The dig is happening in advance of planned highway construction over the area.

Before the Colorado Department of Transportation could re-route a narrow and dangerous stretch of Highway 550 near Durango, they had to consult with archaeologists.

Rand Greubel is an archaeological consultant who’s working to excavate the ground where the new highway will go.  He’s looking for remains of prehistoric native American life there. 

“On a couple sites we’ve had some surprises,” Greubel said. “For example, one of the sites it turned out there’s three pit houses and one of the pit houses is one of the largest ones ever identified in the area.”

He said it seems to be a ceremonial structure from the time of the Ancestral Puebloans around 1200 years ago. 

Greubel is coordinating with local tribes to participate in the dig. 

He said the project has been profound for gaining a fuller picture of ancestral Puebloan life here.

Artifact from the archaeological dig near Durango
Credit Colorado Department of Transportation
Artifact from the archaeological dig near Durango

“It does fill in some blanks in an area where not a lot of work has been done,” he said.

According to Greubel, one of the main reasons sites like this are found and excavated in the first place, is due to infrastructure projects like this one.

“There’s transmission line projects, pipeline projects, highway and road realignments,” he said. “And each one of those projects requires an archaeological survey and the same sort of steps we’ve taken on this project.”

Greubel expects the field work to wrap up in September. Artifacts and research from the Durango digs will be housed at the Canyons of the Ancients Museum in Dolores. The highway construction is slated to begin in 2020.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.