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Aspen Public Radio is proud to present select lectures, discussions, and conversations from area events and festivals, thanks to a remarkable collection of community partners. Click here to view the full archive. Events are recorded at no cost to the partner and archived here online; select recordings are broadcast on Aspen Public Radio Sunday nights at 7 p.m.

Naturalist Nights: The First Ascent: Over Ten Thousand Years of Native American Occupation in the Colorado Mountains

This event was recorded on February 23, 2023 at ACES, as part of the 2023 Winter Naturalist Nights Series, in partnership with Aspen Public Radio.

About the Presentation

Professor Jason LaBelle spoke on our current understanding of Native American occupation of Colorado’s highest mountains over the past ten thousand years, as revealed through archaeology, ethnohistory, and oral history. Colorado archaeologists have recorded several thousand Indigenous sites above 10,000 feet, with particularly high densities in the Colorado Front Range and San Juans, but with surprisingly low counts in the Elk and Sawatch ranges. LaBelle demonstrated the various ways Native American peoples called these mountain ranges their “home”, showcasing research on complex hunting traps known as game drives, lakeside campsites, broken pottery “trails”, and items rapidly melting from ice patches, such as bison bone, stone tools, and coniferous trees.

Each winter,Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), andRoaring Fork Audubon partner to co-host the popular Naturalist Nights speaker series; nature specialists from around the country were invited to talk about their studies for a special opportunity to inform the public on the nature around us, and give insight into the science that can potentially affect the way that we interact with our environment.

About the Speaker

Jason LaBelle is a Professor of Anthropology within the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Colorado State University (since 2005), Director of the Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology, and Curator of CSU’s Archaeological Repository. As a past president of the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists and the Colorado Archaeological Society, he enjoys working with the greater archaeological community and sharing his knowledge with the general public. He obtained his BA degree in Anthropology from Colorado State University and his MA and PhD in Anthropology from Southern Methodist University. His research lab, the Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology, is a research-learning lab grant-sponsored by federal agencies and supported by the James and Audrey Benedict Endowment for Mountain Archaeology. His research specializes in the subsistence, mobility, seasonal aggregation, and camp layout of Native American hunter-gatherers inhabiting the American West over the past 13,000 years, with primary emphasis on Colorado. He has active research projects underway in Rocky Mountain National Park and within several Wilderness Study Areas in the deep canyons of northwestern Colorado.