This nearly complete, three piece moccasin made from tanned bison hide sewed with sinew, was recovered from excavations at Franktown Cave. The sole is an oval shaped piece of hide folded over the foot and gathered in a tight, puckered, whipstitch seam at the end of the tongue, similar to that on modern “moccasinstyle” slippers. The heel is formed by folding the sides of the back end of the sole together forming a distinctive inverted “T” seam. Moccasins of this type were likely made by the ancestors of the modern Navajo and Apache groups now found in the Southwest and Southern Plains.
An important task for archaeologists is determining where and when events occurred in prehistory. Determining the timing and route taken by the ancestral Navajo/Apache on their migration from their ancient homeland in northern Canada, where native people still speak languages closely related to those of the Navajo and Apache, is one such event. The Franktown Cave moccasin demonstrates that these people passed through Colorado hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The similarity with the Promontory moccasins suggests that both sites were occupied very soon after the eastern (Plains Apache) and western (Navajo/Western Apache) groups divided on their migration south.
This artifact, dated AD 1215 to 1270, is one of only a few moccasins from the precontact period in Colorado, and the most complete example. Moccasins are artifacts produced through a complex and culturally specific manufacturing sequence. Therefore similar moccasins found in different places reflect a shared cultural heritage between the people who made them. This moccasin is almost identical to those found at the Promontory Caves in Utah that date to the same period, and moccasins from both sites are similar to a moccasin dated AD 550–660 found in the Yukon, and likely made by the ancestral Apache.
University of Denver, Museum of Anthropology
2000 E Asbury Ave # 146
Denver, CO 80208