CDOT documentary depicts new era of archaeology in Durango, Colorado

The recent realignment of US Highway 550 near Durango, Colorado revealed one of these mysteries, a concentrated area of significant cultural resources – a 1200+ year old Pueblo 1 ridgetop village, stone artifacts, and one of the largest pit houses ever discovered in this area.

Southwest Colorado excavation involves regional tribes 

The Colorado Department of Transportation will debut a documentary on Rocky Mountain PBS this weekend. “Durango 550 – Path of the Ancestral Puebloans” depicts how CDOT worked with archaeologists and regional Native American tribes to document, study and ultimately share the discoveries unearthed near Durango, in southwest Colorado. The archaeological excavation took place in 2018 and 2019 prior to the US 550-US 160 Connection South project breaking ground in 2020. 

CDOT and its contracted firm, Alpine Archaeological Consultants of Montrose, Colo., worked closely with regional tribes. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi Tribe and the Pueblo of Laguna were official consulting tribes under the National Historic Preservation Act and were greatly involved during the planning and implementation processes for the archaeological dig documented in the video. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also participated in aspects of the project. 

“This documentary shows the unique collaboration of all entities involved, laying the groundwork for a new approach to archaeology, blending western science with traditional cultural beliefs,” said CDOT Archaeologist Greg Wolff. “Tribal members frequently visited the project area during the excavations. Tribal elders contributed traditional knowledge, experience and spiritual guidance to the archaeologists and other project staff members.”  

The documentary features several tribal representatives involved in the project and other tribal members who worked and trained as paid interns, participating in both the excavations and educational outreach. In the video, Hanley Frost, an elder and former spokesperson for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe acknowledges that, “tribal members can learn a lot working with archaeologists.” 

The documentary also touches upon tribal youth groups involved with the excavation.  

“I like to see our youth get involved with archeology through our (tribal) natural resources department and cultural department, that way they can better their understanding of our past history and our ancestry,” Ernest “Muz” Pinnecoose, an elder with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, explained in the video. 

“It’s finding that common ground, understanding and respect,” said Georgiana Pongyesva in the documentary. Pongyesva is a research assistant with the Hopi Tribe Cultural Preservation Office. 

Pongyesva added, “When you bring elders, youth and archaeologists all together, everyone is benefiting because you’re learning from each other. But also, it’s paving the way for this new era of archaeology which includes indigenous peoples that are still here and related to these places.” 

Rand Greubel, Principal Investigator with Alpine Archaeological Consultants agrees that the collaboration with Native tribes can provide significant contributions to the field of archaeology, “As archaeologists, we sometimes become so immersed in the artifacts, in the data and in the science that we tend to forget that these were people who had vibrant lives. Their descendants are still here and they have a lot to teach us. I’ve been especially struck at times when a Native person will look at something we revealed through excavation, and they’ll see in it a spiritual dimension that we’re not trained to see.”  

The documentary runs just under 30 minutes and was created by Grit and Thistle Film Company. The video will air twice on RMPBS, Sun., Jan. 16 at 10 a.m. and Thurs., March 17 at 7 p.m. The documentary will also be available to view on the public television’s website and mobile app. Visit for more information about the program schedule.

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