Outline of Colorado prehistory

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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the prehistoric people of Colorado, which covers the period of when humans were first thought to have roamed Colorado until the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776. The types of lifestyles ranged from nomadic hunter-gatherers, semi-permanent village dwellers and people who lived in pueblos.

Periods and peoples[edit]


Paleo-Indian period – the first people who entered, and subsequently inhabited, the Americas during the final glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period. Evidence suggests big-game hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America over a land and ice bridge (Beringia), that existed between 45,000 BCE – 12,000 BCE,[1] following herds of large herbivores far into Alaska.[2]

Archaic period[edit]

Archaic period – people were hunters of small game, such as deer, antelope and rabbits, and gatherers of wild plants, moving seasonally to hunting and gathering sites. Late in the Archaic period, about 200-500 A.D., corn was introduced into the diet and pottery-making became an occupation for storing and caring food.[4]

Post-Archaic period[edit]

Culture in prehistoric Colorado[edit]

See also the cultures under the Paleo-Indian, Archaic and Post-Archaic period sections above.


Clothing and personal adornment[edit]

  • Blankets – turkey feathers, yucca fibers and rabbit fur were woven into blankets. Hides were likely also used as blankets for warmth.[13][14]
  • Clothing – little evidence of clothing, aside from a few loin-cloths found at archaeological sites.
  • Cradleboards – made from yucca, twigs and rabbit fur.[15]
  • Hairstyles – based upon burial remains, men of the Basketmaker culture sometimes wore fancy hairstyles and it's hypothesized that women generally wore their hair cut short.[14]
  • Jewelry – both men and women of the Basketmaker culture wore necklaces, bracelets and pendants made of shell, stone, bone and dried berries. Shells, such as abalone, conus and olivella from the coast of the Pacific ocean, would have been obtained through trade.[14]
  • Robes – turkey feathers were woven into robes.[13]
  • Sandals – made of woven yucca fibers or strips of leaves.[14]



  • Adobe dwellings – building material made from sand, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material (sticks, straw, and/or manure).
  • Crude lean-tos – shelters made of poles covered with brush and/or hides and having a roof with a single slope.
  • Rock shelters – cave-like opening in a bluff or cliff, which may have construction of walls for protection from the elements.
  • Pit-houses – dwellings built partially below ground, covered with poles, brush, earth and/or hides.
  • Tipis – cone-shaped shelters made of wooden poles covered with animal skins.
  • Wikiup – downed branches upturned with small ends forming a tight knit top and large branch ends forming the circular base. Often covered with more, smaller branches and/grasses, allowing for one opening. Similar in shape to a tipi but not portable, nor more than seasonal in use.


  • Prehistoric medicine – practice of use of natural resources, such as plants and earth, to treat disease and injury.


A number of tools were made of stone, such as knives and other tools, to pound, scrape and cut.[15]

Food gathering, storing, cultivation, preparation and cooking
  • Baskets – container which is traditionally constructed from stiff fibers, which was used to gather, store and, when pitch-lined, cook food.
  • Digging sticks – used to plant seeds.[15]
  • Manos – a stone used as the upper millstone for grinding foods (as Indian corn) by hand in a metate.
  • Metate – stone tool used for processing grain and seeds.
  • Pottery – ceramic ware made from clay and fired for durability.
  • Storage pits – underground pits, generally stone-lined for protection of surplus food against the elements and rodents.
  • Atlatl – spear-thrower used to hunt game.
  • Bow and arrow – projectile weapon used to hunt game, a significant improvement over the atlatl.
  • Nets and snares – to trap small game.[15]
  • Projectile points – a stone object crafted to a projectile, such as a spear, dart, arrow, or knife.
  • Spears – pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.
  • Bone awls – simple tool used for sewing or to puncture holes, such as to create clothing from animal skins.
  • Fire – Native American use of fire
  • Rope – woven from yucca.[15]
  • Scraper – unifacial tools that were used either for hideworking or woodworking.
  • Yucca – a source of food, material for clothing and sandals, soap and more.

Origins of contemporary tribes[edit]

The Ute arrived in Colorado by the 1600s and occupied much of the present state of Colorado. They were followed by the Comanches from the south in the 1700s, and then the Arapaho and Cheyenne from the plains who then dominated the plains of Colorado. The Cheyenne, Arapaho and Comanche were the largest group of indigenous people in Colorado at the time of contact with settlers.[16] The following are the language groups and ancestors to contemporary Native American tribes:



Language groups pre-contact locations
Historic map, representing prehistoric tribal regions

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Atlas of the Human Journey-The Genographic Project." National Geographic Society. 1996-2008.
  2. ^ Viegas, Jennifer. "First Americans Endured 20,000-Year Layover." Discovery News.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Cassells, E. Steve. (1997). The Archeology of Colorado, Revised Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books. ISBN 1-55566-193-9.
  4. ^ Kipfer, Barbara Ann. (2000). Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology. New York:Plenum Publisher. p. 341. ISBN 0-306-46158-7.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Gunnerson, James H. (1987). Archaeology of the High Plains. Denver: United States Forest Service.
  6. ^ Archaic: 5500 to 500 B.C.- Overview. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. 2011. Retrieved 10-18-2011.
  7. ^ Time-Life Book Editors. (1993) [1992] The First Americans. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books. pp. 29, 30. ISBN 0-8094-9400-0.
  8. ^ Archaic-Early Basketmaker Period. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, National Park Service. Retrieved 10-15-2011.
  9. ^ Archaic: 5500 to 500 B.C. - Housing Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region. 2011. Retrieved 10-17-2011.
  10. ^ Stiger, Mark. (2008). Hunter-Gather Archaeology of the Colorado High Country. Boulder: The University Press of Colorado. pp. 28-29. ISBN 0-87081-612-8.
  11. ^ a b Gibbon, Guy E.; Ames, Kenneth M. (1998) Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America: An Encyclopedia. ISBN 0-8153-0725-X.
  12. ^ The Dismal River Culture.. Nebraska Studies. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Wenger, Gilbert R. (1991) [1980]. The Story of Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde Museum Association, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. pp. 33-37. ISBN 0-937062-15-4.
  14. ^ a b c d Man of the San Juan Valley: The Basketmakers. Aztec Ruins National Monument, National Park Service. Retrieved 10-16-2011.
  15. ^ a b c d e Ancestral Puebloan Chronology (teaching aid). Mesa Verde National Park, National Park Service. Retrieved 10-16-2011.
  16. ^ a b c d e Indians of Colorado. The William E. Hewitt Institute for History and Social Science Education. University of Northern Colorado. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  17. ^ "Spanish Relations with the Apache Nations east of the Rio Grande", Jeffrey D. Carlisle, B.S., M.A., University of North Texas, May 2001, pages 4-5.
  18. ^ Velarde Tiller, Veronica E. (2011) Culture and Customs of the Apache Indians. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood of ABC-CLIO. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-313-36452-5.