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Colorado is home to some of the nation’s most significant and recognizable archaeological sites – most notably, Mesa Verde. But Coloradans may also be familiar with archaeological finds at Magic Mountain near Golden, the recent cultural history of the Amache Relocation Center, and the ongoing contributions of sovereign tribal nations and other cultural groups to the history and culture of the state. 

Preservation projects, tourism, and employment at these sites and places have resulted in economic benefits to nearby communities and all of Colorado. This report focuses mainly on identifying and exploring these economic impacts, but also explores the qualitative influences of these activities to provide a wholistic picture of how archaeology is relevant and contributes to modern-day Colorado.

The economic benefits of archaeology in Colorado are significant but fragmented across numerous industries. The various methodologies required across different data sets makes it difficult to provide a cumulative value for annual economic benefit. Therefore, this report details fiscal impacts in a segmented nature – organized into three major categories, each with subcategories:

A Note About Inflation Adjustments

Throughout this report, all values are adjusted for inflation to reflect the change in the value of a dollar over the scope of the study. Using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all dollar values are adjusted to reflect the 2019 value of a dollar.  Due to rounding and inflation adjustments, direct and indirect impact values will not always add up to the total impact.

  • Preserving Archaeological Sites. Colorado is home to a robust archaeology and Cultural Resource Management industry that awards and wins grant funding, creates jobs, and protects and preserves human culture and history.

  • Visiting Archaeological Sites. The work of preserving archaeological sites results in landscapes, sites, and artifacts that are protected and accessible – driving a robust heritage tourism economy.

  • Celebrating and Strengthening the Archaeological Community.  The statewide benefits of preserved archaeological sites and artifacts and the resulting enhancements to our understanding of human history rely on a network of skilled professionals, passionate educators, and enthusiastic volunteers.

Preserving Archaeological Sites


Identifying, protecting, and preserving archaeological sites, cultural resources, and historic landscapes is dependent upon qualified professionals practicing contemporary ethics and the latest methods. Sustaining these efforts requires adequate resources. 

Archaeology projects on federal lands can be funded by the land managing agency, the agency funding the project, or by the non-government entity pursuing the project on federal land. Projects on state, federal, or private land might also earn grant funding from a federal agency, a non-profit organization, a private developer, or through the State Historical Fund (SHF), one of the major funders of archaeology work throughout Colorado (see Amache Relocation Center). 

In practice, most efforts to find, study, and safeguard cultural resources require a patchwork of funding sources and a diverse team of archaeologists and supporting professionals. This section explores the major economic drivers of the archaeology industry and estimates the potential economic influence of each key factor. 

SHF Grants and Matches by County (1993 - 2019)

Grant Funding

Grant Funding

State Historical Fund

The History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), funded by state gaming revenues, awards competitive and non-competitive grants each year for historic preservation and restoration projects that demonstrate strong public benefit and community support. Included in that directive is the protection and preservation of cultural resources. 

Over the 27 years that SHF has awarded grants, 408 have been awarded to archaeology-related projects, varying from as few as four grants in 1993 and 2015 to 30 grants in 2003. On average 15 SHF grants are awarded to archaeology projects each year. 

Between 1993 and 2019, almost $22 million in grants have been awarded throughout Colorado, with over $13.2 million in cash matches, for a total of over $35 million in funding for archaeology projects in Colorado (see Figure 1). The average year sees over $1.35 million in direct investment into archaeology work through SHF grant efforts.

These impacts are widely distributed to 48 of Colorado’s 64 counties, with some projects also having a regional or statewide scope that delivers benefits across the state. Montezuma County, home of Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, holds a significant concentration of Colorado’s most notable archaeological sites and has garnered over $13.5 million in combined SHF grants and matching funds – 31 percent of all SHF grants and 47 percent of all matching funds tied to SHF grants.
The result of these investments is over $43.4 million in indirect impacts (additional jobs created, wages earned, and economic activity) and over $77.9 million in total impact on the state economy since 1993.

4-1_Value of SHF Grants.png

$1.35 million
average SHF funds invested per year in Colorado archaeology projects

Figure 1: Value of SHF Grants (2019 Dollars)

Federal Government

Many federal agencies engage in archaeology work, either as part of their directive or as a necessary task to ensure that their work, or work they fund, avoids or minimizes impacts on archaeological resources (see Animas-La Plata). Federal agencies also award grants to fund efforts from other agencies or organizations. Notably, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of the Interior (DOI), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and National Science Foundation (NSF), among others, are significant funders of archaeology projects through grant awards.

As shown in Figure 2, federal agencies have contributed almost $135.6 million since 2002 toward archaeology-related projects in Colorado or to Colorado companies and institutions. On average, Colorado receives almost $8.5 million annually in grant awards for archaeology-related projects, although the actual total varies from $0 to over $64.6 million. 

Between 2015 and 2017 Colorado received a significant, and above average, amount of grant funding – $28.5 million in 2015, $64.6 million in 2016, and $13.7 million in 2017. The majority of all grant funding given during these years was awarded to Colorado State University (CSU) through the DOD’s Legacy Resource Management Program, an effort to protect and enhance natural and cultural resources on military lands. Like all data on grants in this report, the award years are based on the date the grant was awarded, but most archaeology projects are multi-year efforts, so the impacts may be distributed over several years.

The direct $135.6 million federal investment in archaeology led to an additional $167.5 million in indirect impacts from employment, wages, and spending in other industries, for a total benefit to the Colorado economy of over $300 million between 2002 and 2019.

Figure 2: Archaeology-Related Federal Grants (2002-2019)
4-2_Archaeology-Related Federal Grants.p

$8.5 million
average Federal Grant funds invested per year in Colorado archaeology projects

Private and Educational Organizations

In addition to the grants awarded by state and federal agencies, some private organizations and educational institutions support archaeological endeavors through grant funding. Although higher education is heavily funded by the state and federal government, grant funding data for these organizations are combined with information collected from private foundations to differentiate it from direct government funding and to reflect the quasi-independent and cooperative nature of these organizations.

Grants awarded by private organizations and educational institutions fund a wide variety of efforts and archaeology-related fields, including fieldwork, research, scholarships, arts and culture, technical assistance, and more. However, only projects determined to be related to archaeology and cultural resources are considered as part of the analysis of economic impacts.
Of the nine organizations that provided data or had data available on grants awarded to archaeology-related projects, almost $14.5 million has been awarded to Colorado projects and project managers since 1984. Due to data limitations, the vast majority of that grant funding has been awarded since 2013, accounting for 84 percent of all known funding in this category.
Figure 3, below, shows the year-to-year change in grant funding for archaeology work in Colorado from these organizations. This figure also shows the more complete nature of data on grant funding in recent years.

Like state and federal grants, awards from private organizations and educational institutions also generate indirect economic impacts. Since 1984, these organizations have generated almost $17.9 million in indirect impacts and a total economic benefit of over $32 million to the state economy.

Figure 3:  Private and Institutional Grant Awards (1984-2019)
4-3_Private and Institutional Grant Awar

Summary of Economic Benefits

In total, the three grant-funding categories have contributed $185 million (including matching funds for SHF grants) in direct impact into the state economy. The resulting total economic impact has been over $410 million based on the cumulative industry output in Colorado because of the direct and indirect impacts on the economy, as shown in the graphic below. All grant values, matching funds, and economic impacts have been adjusted for inflation to the value of the dollar in 2019. 


from 2012 - 2019

$109 million

in direct wages to professional CRM archaeologists and anthropologists

Cultural Resource Management

Cultural Resource Management (CRM) broadly refers to efforts to minimize the impacts of development on cultural resources like historic structures, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes. For any project on federal land or tied to federal funding, CRM is required by law and often requires the cooperation of government agencies and the private sector. Private CRM consulting firms are commonly used to support federal agencies (see Animas-La Plata).


CRM is considered a sub-discipline of archaeology. Because CRM entails the identification, documentation, and preservation of archaeological sites, as well as knowledge and application of local, state and federal preservation law, it requires the work of qualified professional archaeologists.

Professional archaeologists and CRM firms have a direct impact on the Colorado economy through employment, employee wages, and business operations, but also impact the state and local economy indirectly because of employee spending.

The economic impact of CRM employment from 2012 to 2019 is estimated to have resulted in almost $109 million in direct wages to professional archaeologists and anthropologists (not including academic archaeologists and anthropologists). Figure 4, below, shows the estimated combined income of all professional archaeologists and anthropologists and the year-to-year variation.  
Between 2012 and 2019, professional employment in the CRM industry supported the creation of almost 1,750 additional jobs, almost $85 million in earnings for other households, and over $134 million in indirect impact (i.e., value-added across all other industries). In total, the CRM industry had almost $241 million in impact on the state economy.

Figure 4: Mean Annual Wages of Professional Archaeologists and Anthropologists
4-5_Mean Annual Wages of Archaeologists.
State and Federal Oversight

State and Federal Oversight

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) establishes policy for all federal agencies to work in partnership with state, local, and tribal governments, and organizations and individuals, to ensure the impact of contemporary activities on archaeological and historic resources is considered.

A key part of the NHPA is Section 106, which requires that the responsible federal agency “take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register” before issuing any licenses or approving any federal funds for the project. The NHPA does not mandate that all historic and cultural resources be preserved in the same way, or even require preservation of resources, but it does establish the regulations and procedures for how the federal government considers historic and cultural resources during federal undertakings and projects that require federal approval or funding. 

While Section 106 is the most notable regulatory oversight process, Section 110 of the NHPA is also important. Section 110 requires federal agencies to have historic preservation programs and work to identify and protect historic and cultural resources under their direct control or ownership. Along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Cultural Resource Use Permit, Colorado State Register Act, and other State of Colorado permits, these key regulatory oversight processes are estimated to have had almost $144 million in direct economic impacts between 2016 and 2019. This direct impact created almost 2,500 jobs, generated almost $192 million in indirect impacts, and had a total economic impact of over $327 million on the state economy between 2016 and 2019.  Figure 5, below, shows the annual trend in economic impacts from state and federal oversight between 2016 and 2019. 

Figure 5: Total Impact of State and Federal Permit Undertakings Per Year (2015-2019)
4-7_Impact of State and Federal Permit Undertakings by Year (2016-2019).png

from 2016 - 2019

regulatory oversight created

2,500 JOBS

$327 million
economic impact on the state economy

CRM Highlighted Projects

Visiting Archaeological Sites


Heritage Tourism

Heritage tourism is any travel to experience the places, artifacts, activities, and stories that are significant to the past or present cultural identity of a particular group of people. For purposes of identification as part of the larger tourism market, “heritage tourists” include visitors whose primary reason for traveling is to visit historic and cultural places, as well as those who incorporate at least one visit to such a site as part of their travel, even if it is not the primary purpose of the visit. Heritage tourism activities might include any visits that focus on local culture or history, including festivals, art, important structures, industry, scenic and historic landscapes, famous locations in literature or film, indigenous or Native cultures, and archaeological sites.

Heritage  Tourists visit longer and spend more money than other tourists.
U.S. Travel Association


A survey and analysis of heritage tourists from 2008 (the most recent year to specifically call out this subcategory of tourists) commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office found that 38 percent of overnight visitors to the state categorized themselves as specifically interested in cultural heritage and 51 percent of all tourists said they experienced something heritage-related on their trip.  Those percentages may be applied to the overall amount of tourism spending in recent years. In 2016, 8.3 million overnight guests to Colorado visited national or state parks, 7.1 million visited historic sites, 5.6 million visited museums, and 2.6 million visited art galleries.  Like all tourism in the state, heritage tourism has grown since 2008. The result of this growth in tourism has been an increase in spending from $6.1 billion in 2010 to $10.5 billion in 2019 (see Figure 6). This direct spending resulted in $650 million in state and local taxes and support for 79,000 jobs.

of all overnight visitors to Colorado experience something heritage related on their trip

Figure 6: Direct Travel Spending by Cultural Heritage Tourists in Colorado (2008-2019)
4-9_Direct Travel Spending Heritage Tour

Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways

Scenic and Historic Byways

Colorado has designated 26 scenic and historic byways since establishing the program in 1989. Thirteen of these byways are also designated as America’s Byways by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation – more national designations than any other state. 

Although all of Colorado’s byways attract cultural heritage tourists – tourists who engage in at least one cultural activity during their trip – some byways are specifically targeted to highlighting Colorado’s archaeological resources. The most prominent example is the Trail of the Ancients, a 480-mile loop in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah (116 miles within Colorado), that links Colorado sites like Mesa Verde National Park, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and the Ute Mountain Tribal Park with similar scenic and historic sites in Utah.

Meanwhile, the newest scenic and historic byway is the 125-mile Tracks Across Borders Byway (89 miles within Colorado) that connects Durango with Chama, New Mexico via the sovereign nations of the Southern Ute and the Jicarilla tribes, and includes cultural heritage sites like Chimney Rock National Monument, the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum.

Since 2015, tourist spending along Colorado’s 26 byways has resulted in almost 29,000 jobs, over $1.2 billion in labor earnings, and almost $264 million in state and local taxes.

Colorado Archaeological Sites, National Parks, and National Monuments

National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites, and Historic Trails

Colorado is home to four national parks (Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison), eight national monuments (Hovenweep, Dinosaur, Chimney Rock, Yucca House, Canyons of the Ancients, Browns Canyon, Florissant Fossil Beds, and Colorado), two national historic sites (Bent’s Old Fort and Sand Creek Massacre), and four national historic trails (California, Old Spanish, Pony Express, and Santa Fe). 

Additionally, Colorado has many other federal lands, including national recreation areas, national forests and grasslands, national wildlife refuges, national conservation areas, and national wilderness areas. All parks, monuments, sites, forests, trails, and other public lands are part of the state’s robust heritage tourism industry, and most have traces of human history. However, some of these federally recognized and administered sites have more prominent archaeological significance than others.

Mesa Verde National Park (NP) is the most prominent archaeological preserve in Colorado, and the only such site designated as a national park. It also happens to be Colorado’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Near Mesa Verde, in southwestern Colorado, are Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (NM), Chimney Rock NM, Hovenweep NM, and Yucca House NM. While many of the federally designated archaeological sites are in this part of the state, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (NHS) and the Sand Creek Massacre NHS are prominent federally administered sites in eastern Colorado.

In 2019, visitation to federally administered archaeology-related parks, monuments, and historic sites in Colorado generated almost $65.5 million in visitor spending, created over 900 jobs, and had almost $82 million in economic impacts. Most of these benefits were from Mesa Verde National Park, which accounted for 80 percent of all visits among archaeology-related parks, monuments, and historic sites; 89 percent of all visitor spending; and 88 percent of the cumulative economic output.

Colorado Museums and Repositories

Local Sites and Museums

Colorado is home to approximately 329 local museums and historic sites that cover diverse topics. Over 130 of those museums focus on archaeology, anthropology, local history, and Native American history and culture that attract visitors from across the state and the nation.

A study by Oxford Economics (in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums) found that each year museums in Colorado support over 16,000 jobs – including over 8,100 jobs directly – while generating over $767 million in employee income, almost $257 million in taxes, and over $1 billion in value-added to the economy.  The same study also found that museums in Colorado have an economic output that is 1.2 times greater than the national average.

In 2019, the estimated impact of the 134 Colorado museums that focus on archaeology, anthropology, Native American history and culture, and state and local history (which often includes Native American history) was over $534 million. This includes the creation of over 8,000 jobs paying over $380 million in labor income, and over $127 million in taxes generated for state, local, and federal governments.

Celebrating the Archaeological Community
AHPMblog6_PAACsurvey2020 (2).JPG


Archaeology-Related Events in Colorado

Archaeology Events

Every year, multiple events, conferences, and meetings dedicated to archaeology, anthropology, and historic preservation are hosted in Colorado. These events vary in size, frequency, and target audience. National and international organizations host conferences that attract thousands of people from around the country and world, while annual meetings of statewide organizations or local chapters bring together smaller groups of local professionals and hobbyists from around the state.

Some of these conferences address archaeology but also related topics; for example, the annual Colorado Preservation, Inc., Saving Places conference brings together hundreds of archaeologists, historic preservationists, and planners to Denver from Colorado and many other states. 
But many of the events are specific to archaeology. Colorado annually hosts the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS) Annual Meeting and Conference, the Curation Alliance Forum, the International Archaeology Day Expo, and other local conferences, with host sites rotated throughout the state. Occasionally, Colorado is selected to host larger conferences including the annual American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Conference and Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Annual Meeting. These events, and others of this size, tend to be held in Denver, where airport, lodging, and convention facilities can more easily accommodate the number of attendees.

Regardless of the type of conference or event, these gatherings require planning, meeting production, venue rental, technical support, catering, and other activities before any attendees even arrive. Attendees spend money on registration fees, accommodations, transportation, dining, shopping, recreation, entertainment, and more. All this spending creates jobs, pays employees, allows for investment and maintenance of facilities, and generates taxes for the state and local economies.

Between 2009 and 2019, archaeology-related conferences and events contributed over $48.5 million towards the Colorado economy in direct ($29.9 million) and indirect ($18.6 million) impacts (see Figure 7). These economic impacts are felt throughout the state with events hosted in Cortez, Fort Collins, Craig, La Junta, Glenwood Springs, Denver, and other communities. The large spike in spending and economic impact in 2015 reflects the significant impact of hosting the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting, held in Denver.

Figure 7: Annual Economic Impact of Conferences and Events (2009-2019)
4-8_Annual Economic Impact of Conference

from 2009 - 2019

$48.5 million

generated from archaeology-related events into the Colorado economy

Archaeology-Related Higher Education Programs

Archaeology Education

Education in archaeology can be informal, such as an exhibit at a local museum or an event like the International Archaeology Day Expo. Or, education can mean obtaining a post-secondary degree through one of Colorado’s 21 college or university programs. Most university programs in the state offer degrees in anthropology – a broad field that includes archaeology. As a result, many anthropology programs offer courses or concentrations in archaeology.


In 2018, formal education in Archaeology and Anthropology at just seven of 21 community colleges and universities generated over $12.2 million in direct economic impacts, which includes tuition and cost of living for students, faculty and staff wages, and any scholarships and grants awarded by the program (see Figure 8).

21 colleges and universities

in Colorado offer degrees or certification, anthropology, or CRM

Figure 8: Direct Economic Impact of Archaeology Higher Education in Colorado (2018)
4-9_Economic Impact of Archaeology Highe
Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS) Chapters

Colorado Archaeological Society

The archaeology community is made up of people who are passionate about cultural resources and human history. This community embraces both professional archaeologists and also individuals who pursue archaeology recreationally. Both groups are highly involved in enhancing archaeological projects and the archaeology community through volunteer activities. Volunteerism in the archaeology community provides social benefits to the vocation and professional organizations, but also contributes to the economy of Colorado.

Volunteers directly support local economies when traveling to projects or events, when purchasing fuel, meals, lodging, supplies, or hiring additional labor.  Indirectly, archaeology volunteers develop valuable skills that may aid them in their profession, resulting in an increase in their employment or compensation.

One of the main organizations in the state that facilitates volunteer involvement is the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS), a non-profit organization that started in 1935 for those interested in archaeology and human history in Colorado. CAS has nine official and two affiliated local chapters throughout the state – including chapters in areas as geographically and demographically diverse as Boulder, Montrose, and Pueblo. The nine official and two affiliated local chapters and their members make significant contributions to public education, research, conservation, and provide opportunities for responsible participation in archaeology (see El Pueblo Project). Between 2017 and 2019, CAS volunteers contributed over 17,000 hours towards archaeology projects, which generated over $480,000 in economic impacts to the state economy (see Figure 9).

CAS was founded in


and has

9 chapters

in the state

Figure 9: CAS Volunteer Hours and Economic Impact
4-17_CAS Volunteer Hours and Impact.png

Avocational Archaeology

Avocational archaeology encompasses the contributions of non-professional archaeologists towards preserving archaeological sites. Following the passage of the State Antiquities Act in 1973, History Colorado established the Program for Avocational Archaeology Certification (PAAC) in 1978 to expand awareness of archaeology, educate citizens on the skills and ethics of the field, and build the skills necessary for volunteers to contribute to archaeological work in Colorado. 


Due to the highly specialized nature of the archaeology field, the PAAC is not considered a substitute for university education or federal government training, so most PAAC participants are not professional archaeologists. Instead, PAAC participants are often retirees with an interest in archaeology, non-archaeology professionals interested in volunteering on archaeology projects on holidays and weekends, and students interested in a career in archaeology or in need of more experience or qualifications to gain employment in the field. 

The PAAC provides 12 courses and certifications through local coordinators that are relevant to professional and amateur archaeologists, alike. Between 2006 and 2019, the PAAC offered 200 courses to almost 3,000 participants, developing the skills and ethical training necessary for avocationalists to contribute to the preservation of cultural history in Colorado (see Figure 10).

Figure 10: PAAC Courses Offered and Participation (2006-2019)
4-18_PAAC Courses Offered and Participat

Since 2006 PAAC has offered
200 courses 
to nearly
3,000 participants

Archaeological Community - Highlighted Projects

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