High atop Tenderfoot Mountain on the cold wind-swept plains of the Gunnison Basin, lies the remnants of Colorado’s oldest house—the Mountaineer site. Over 10,000 years ago, Native Americans built a seasonal hunting camp in a location that gave them a commanding view of the surrounding plains and river. Western State College archaeologist, Dr. Mark Stiger first discovered the site in 2000 when he was inspecting an area of the mountaintop scheduled for the construction of a radio transmission tower. He quickly recognized the importance of the discovery and had it designated as historically significant by Gunnison County. He then applied for State Historical Fund grants to conduct excavations at the site. The 2001 and 2002 excavations exposed more than 30 more points and various other stone tools, making it one of the densest concentrations of Folsom materials in North America.
The site has subsequently received two more SHF grants that are supporting ongoing studies at the site, and in the summer of 2003 Dr. Stiger uncovered the ancient house—a find that Discovery Magazine labeled one of the “Top 100 Science Stories of 2003”. Dr. Stiger believes that the house “is a winter occupation” and states “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were here for a few months, a family perhaps. According the Dr. Stiger, one of the interesting revelations coming from the Mountaineer site is that “these people were living in relatively substantial structures and populating one area for extended periods of time”. This observation is contrary to the previously held image of Folsom people as being always on the go and living almost exclusively in the Great Plains.
For additional information about this project please contact the State Historical Fund at 303-866-2825.
Upper right: Dr. Mark Stiger points out the exterior dimensions of the Folsom-age house on top of Tenderfoot Mountain in Gunnison County.
Lower left: A Folsom spear point recovered from the Mountaineer site.