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Colorado Mountain College gifts archaeological site to The Archaeological Conservancy

Ute Mountain Tribal leader Mark Wing gave a native blessing at the transfer of land from Colorado Mountain College to The Archaeological Conservancy. (Carrie Click/Courtesy photo)
The land was acquired by the college in the 1970s and was used for study

Colorado Mountain College recently donated tribal land to The Archaeological Conservancy as a way to preserve the historic beauty of the land.

In 1974, CMC purchased 35 acres of land in Montezuma County near Cortez, found in an area known as the Shields Pueblo. This land, known as the Shields Pueblo Preserve, was home to Ancestral Pueblo centuries ago, according to a news release from CMC.

The original plan was to use the property as an educational site for students studying archaeology. In the 1970s, many CMC faculty and students visited and worked on the property. In recent years, however, CMC’s trips to the Shields Pueblo Reserve became few and far between.

In the 1970s and 1980s, CMC while doing work on the site, researchers discovered six kivas and a partially exposed room home block.

While doing archaeological work in the 1980s and 1990s, Crow Canyon found three neighboring residential communities: the Sand Canyon Pueblo, Castle Rock Pueblo and Lower Sand Canyon community.

The preserve remained unchanged as the land changed around it in the years after its purchase. Research conducted by the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in the 1990s “revealed an Ancestral Pueblo occupation of the site,” which showed that the land had once been inhabited by villages and farmland of the roughly 26,000 Puebloan people from around 700 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

A few years ago, CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser, with the help of the CMC board and senior staff members, began to discuss whether the preserve should remain in possession of the college, as none of the college’s 11 campuses are close to the land.

They originally wanted to donate the land to several Native tribes, but finally decided to place the land in the hands of The Archaeological Conservancy. The conservancy is in Albuquerque and is “dedicated to acquiring and preserving America’s most important cultural sites,” according to the news release.

conservancy said they felt that the conservancy would best be able to care for and preserve the land. To date, it has preserved over 580 sites in 45 states.

“Now, under TAC’s care, the land will be thoughtfully managed, as it’s made available to native tribes, the public, scientists and Colorado Mountain College,” the news release said.

The transfer of land took place officially on June 27, and the transfer took place during a ceremony on the preserve.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribal leader Mark Wing gave a Native blessing, and multiple representatives from CMC, Crow Canyon and the conservancy were present to witness the transfer. Members of the Bureau of Land Management and Great Outdoors Colorado also attended the event.

Jon Ghahate, a Crow Canyon educator from the Pueblos of Laguna and Zuni tribes, said this kind of step in preserving the land ensures the continuance of stories for those who do not have a voice.

“Respecting the land is essential, as is having empathy for the people who once lived on it,” Ghahate said. “Preserving and providing stewardship of the land is still another way to continue these stories.”