Hey, transplants — yes, even you with the great-great-great-grandparents who settled in what would become Colorado way back in the 1850s. This summer you can learn about the real natives of the region, the people who hunted, crafted and cultivated here centuries ago: The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is offering a chance to dig deep into their history at the Magic Mountain archaeological site.
This spot, nestled at the base of a sandstone outcropping along Apex/Lena Gulch in Golden, has been a prime location for artifact hunters since the 1860s, when residents of the mining boomtown of Apex would dig up ancient keepsakes whenever they had some free time. In the 1940s, amateur and professional archaeologists became aware of the site’s significance, setting up test excavations and uncovering burial sites.
Official scientific digs didn’t start until the 1950s, shortly before the site got its name. Modern prospectors who wanted to make their fortune with a Disney-like amusement park bought up property here for Magic Mountain, which opened in 1957. Although that theme-park venture collapsed after only a few years, the name was adopted by the archaeology site. (The theme park on the property, now owned by Martin Marietta, later became Heritage Square, and this summer reopened as Heritage Amusement Park.)
The Magic Mountain archaeology site contains artifacts dating back roughly 7,000 years; in 1980 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which protects it from further development. Excavations have uncovered everything from arrowheads and bone fragments to stone foundations and fire pits, from which scientists have gleaned that this was perhaps more than a simple camp, but instead a settlement of sorts.
Last year the DMNS began its first excavations of the area in two decades. This summer's work, made possible by a grant from History Colorado, will focus on human activity in the Early Ceramic Period, extending from roughly 200 to 1000 C.E. (A.D.).
If you’re interested in helping dig up the past, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is hosting free public tours and excavation opportunities with professional archaeologists from June 20 to June 27 and again from July 5 to July 13. Reserve a spot at dmns.org/toursatmagicmountain.