top of page


“Archaeology is fundamentally important to the economic, social, and environmental vitality of the State of Colorado.”

-Dr. Holly Norton, Colorado State Archaeologist

This report explores the field of archaeology in Colorado, and in particular the economic and other benefits that this wide-ranging discipline brings to all corners of the state and to all Coloradans.


Historic Preservation for a Changing Colorado

History Colorado, with grant funding from the State Historical Fund, has examined the economic and other benefits of historic preservation in Colorado through an ongoing series of reports that began in 2001 and have continued through the most recent edition in 2017. These reports highlight the collaborative, everchanging, and statewide nature of historic preservation and the economic benefits of that work in Colorado. 


These historic preservation reports served as a catalyst for this new report, which is thought to be one of the first efforts to comprehensively identify and analyze the benefits of archaeology – especially the economic benefits.



Summary Themes



Archaeological sites are widespread in Colorado. The benefits that come from archaeological investigations contribute to the prosperity of communities throughout all corners of the state. Mining sites and ghost towns in mountain communities, old homesteads on the Great Plains, rock art on the Western Slope, and indigenous sites in the San Luis Valley demonstrate the statewide scope of archaeology. As different as these landscapes and discoveries are, they all contribute to a fuller and more vibrant picture of the history of Colorado, while stimulating local economies. This report looks at a diverse array of archaeological benefits across the state. 

  • Rural and Small-Town Colorado: Sites and museums in places like Dolores, Fairplay, Pagosa Springs, Trinidad, and Wray show that rural and small-town Colorado is rich with sites of great archaeological importance. These sites and museums attract visitors and generate substantial economic benefits for each of these communities. 

  • Urban Colorado:  In Colorado’s larger cities, museums like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and El Pueblo archaeological site in Pueblo explore archaeological experiences in urban settings. Archaeological sites in urban areas also benefit rapidly growing communities by preserving land and minimizing urban sprawl, exemplified by the Magic Mountain site in Golden.




Archaeology is the study of the human past through material culture, or artifacts.  Archaeology projects lead to the identification and display of artifacts that allow us all to learn more about past peoples and landscapes. These discoveries, made by professional and avocational archaeologists alike, are often made accessible to the public in museums or on public lands. By seeing and touching these items from the past, everyone is able to better understand our connections to the people who came before us.   

  • Exploring Archaeology Museums: Archaeological discoveries lend themselves to a deeper understanding of how past peoples lived. At museums located across Colorado, that knowledge is on display for everyone. High-quality exhibits at institutions like the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science help bring to life the lessons of archaeology in easily accessible facilities. 

  • Discovering Archaeology Sites: Outside museums, Coloradans can visit archaeological sites like Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park to explore human history in the exact locations where it occurred. These experiences provide a tangible connection with the past and also illustrate how Colorado’s physical environment helped shape the human history on display.


Archaeology teaches us how past societies answered, or failed to answer, pressing issues. Taking the lessons of yesterday’s societies and applying them today helps us confront modern challenges with robust and informed solutions.

  • Climate Change: Archaeology is important for understanding climate change in complex ways. A wide variety of past societies dealt with climate change, such as Ancestral Puebloan societies in the thirteenth century, or farmers on the eastern plains during the dust bowl era. Climate change has its own history, and it is vital that we understand the drastic climate change we are experiencing today is caused by human activities over the past several centuries, and is itself an outcome of the industrial era. 


  • Societal Change: By studying the past, archaeologists can better understand historical events and patterns, including how societies respond to significant pressures from population, climate, or even other groups.  This analysis leads to revelations about human agency and behavior in societal changes we see today.



The economic contributions of many different types of archaeological activities are discussed throughout this report. Some of the most significant economic impacts are shown below.

bottom of page