Footprints in the Snow: High-Altitude Cultural Ecology of the Colorado Front Range, U.S.A.
James B. Benedict
Prehistoric human occupation of the Front Range summit region was influenced by a unique combination of environmental factors: (1) a location at the headwaters of four major river systems in the semiarid interior of the continent, (2) abundant late-lying and perennial snowbanks that made the region virtually immune to drought, (3) a severe periglacial climate that restricted human habitation to warm seasons and to intervals without excessive snow, (4) convenient access to mild wintering environments and low-altitude resources, (5) a lack of good-quality toolstone at high elevations, (6) a scarcity of edible plants that could be harvested in large quantities, and (7) extensive tundra uplands that attracted bighorn, elk, and other large ungulates in summer. More than 50 stone game-drive systems, ranging in age from Paleoindian to Late Prehistoric, have been recorded above timberline. Butchering sites, hunting camps, and vision-quest localities also are present, but long-term base camps and specialized plant-food-processing stations have not been identified above 3000 m. Two seasonal transhumance systems are thought to have operated, both based out of winter camps in the eastern foothills of the Front Range. One involved simple up-and-down seasonal migration, with lengthy stays at high altitude, and the other a 300- to 400-km counterclockwise "grand circuit" that brought people to the crest of the Front Range from the west for brief periods in late summer and autumn. Restriction of major game-drive systems to a 70-km sector of the Continental Divide directly east of Middle Park reflects seasonal changes in band size and location; only during this portion of the annual cycle were people assembled in groups that were large enough to conduct full-scale communal hunts.
Citation Note: This article was published when our journal had an earlier shorter name: "Arctic and Alpine Research."