Colorado Community-Based Archaeology

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Hi! My name is Michele Koons. As Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS), my job is to conduct field research, communicate archaeology effectively to a wide audience, and curate the archaeology collection.  It was a true honor to have the opportunity to attend the Digital Archaeology Institute at Michigan State University this year. I added so many exciting tools to my archaeology toolkit! Because I am involved in so many diverse projects, it was difficult to pick just one to focus on for the institute. Nonetheless, I decided to focus on building a digital platform for a community-based archaeology program that we are just getting off the ground.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is heavily engaged in Citizen Science, yet archaeology, for the most part, has taken a backseat. The goal of a community-based project is to make archaeology accessible and knowable to a larger audience. This includes K-12 students, university students, native communities, volunteers, archaeologists, the interested general public, donors, and various other stakeholders. The intention is to build a long-term and flexible program. The well-known archaeological site, Magic Mountain, near Golden, CO is the perfect location for our inaugural project.  We are in the process of securing necessary permits, permissions, and partners to begin a project there.

Nestled in the foothills along Lena Gulch, Magic Mountain got its name from a now defunct amusement park located nearby. Prehistorically, it was occupied between 5000 BC and 1000 AD and is proclaimed to be one of the most important sites on Colorado’s Front Range. However, no popular literature exists on the site, and it is not a large part of local lore or the identity of the region. Magic Mountain was excavated twice in the past; first, by Harvard University in the 1950s, and second by the CRM firm, Centennial Archaeology, in the 1990s. DMNS houses the collections from the latter excavation.  A preliminary visit to the site in July 2015 with the director of the 1990s project indicated there is still a lot work to do and a lot of interest in the community.

Once permission is secured, we propose to begin the archaeological program with drone photogrammetry to create 3D topographic maps and geophysical surveys to understand the subsurface environment. Later, we will build an excavation program based on the results of this work.

I propose a two part digital project for the institute. First, I will build a website to act as a living platform that will develop alongside the archaeological project. The website will have information on the site itself, the logistics for the project, information on how to get involved on various levels, and tutorials on “what is archaeology?” and best practices. This website will focus on blogging and providing live updates on the progress of the project. The archaeological data will also be shared through the website. A strong social media campaign will help promote the project within the community and with media outlets. When the project is complete the website will serve as a project record.

Part two will focus on crowdsourcing to compile information from existing site forms and artifacts from Magic Mountain. In the upcoming year, I will work with volunteers to scan the 1990s site forms and photograph the artifacts at DMNS. The digital transcription forms will be designed so that the information from the old forms can be integrated with newly collected data. This will aid in open data sharing/publishing in the future. The crowdsourcing part of the project may not be completed this year, but I will get the pieces in place for the development.

We are very excited to launch this community archaeology program for Denver and beyond. I am so grateful to continue working with and learning from the amazing community I met at the Digital Archaeology Institute to bring this archaeological project into the digital age.



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