Archaeologist talks prehistoric Douglas County

Highlands Ranch Historical Society hosted the event

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Gordon Tucker has studied prehistoric sites across Israel, Japan and the western United States, including Douglas County.

On April 15, Tucker, an archaeologist, gave a presentation to members of the Highlands Ranch Historical Society at Southridge Recreation Center, 4800 McArthur Ranch Road. His slideshow — titled “Ancient Douglas County: Telling the Story of a Special Place and its People” — looked at life 12,000 years ago, light years before Douglas County was home to the 358,000 people it is today.

“We are telling a story about people,” Gordon said to the filled auditorium. “And we are using the remnants left behind to tell that story.”

Gordon, cultural resources team lead at AECOM, an engineering firm with 87,000 employees, focused on three sites: Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Parker, Franktown Cave in unincorporated Douglas County and Blackfoot Cave in Douglas County open space.

But first, he explained to the audience his role as an archaeologist of 44 years.

“If you really pin them down, (archaeologists) like to play in the dirt,” Gordon said, adding that he spends eight hours a day at a computer, examining artifacts.

Essentially Gordon's job is to fit together pieces of a puzzle to understand human behavior, he said.

Douglas County has more than 1,200 archaeological sites, indicating the presence of prehistoric people and patterns in their behavior, Gordon explained.

Chipped and ground stone tools, petrified wood, basin homes and storage pits found at a prehistoric site near Rueter-Hess Reservoir are clues to a residential base camp where Native Americans lived 7,000-8,000 years ago, likely in the spring and early summer.

Ceramic pieces, sandals and basketry found in the Franktown Cave indicate a shelter for prehistoric people. A musket ball, threading beads, barbed wire and ceramic dishware found at Blackfoot Cave are linked to prehistoric people, modern tribes and Europeans.

“What we imagine people did was move around,” Gordon said.

The concept of life in Douglas County thousands of years ago astonished Teri Burget, a member of the Highlands Ranch Historical Society. Previously she thought of Douglas County history as homesteaders settling in Highlands Ranch in the 19th century.

“It's fascinating,” Burget said.

Gordon left the audience with one task. He pointed to a table with arrowheads, ceramic plates and a piece of stone.

“All of these are clues,” he said. “If you had this, what story would you tell?”

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