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Outline of Colorado prehistory facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
See also: Outline of Colorado and Prehistory of Colorado

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the prehistoric people of Colorado, which covers the period of when Native Americans lived in Colorado prior to contact with the Domínguez–Escalante expedition in 1776. People's lifestyles included nomadic hunter-gatherering, semi-permanent village dwelling, and residing in pueblos.

Periods and peoples


Paleo-Indian period – the first people who entered, and subsequently inhabited, the Americas during the final glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period. Evidence suggests big-game hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America over a land and ice bridge (Beringia), that existed between 45,000 BCE – 12,000 BCE, following herds of large herbivores far into Alaska.

Archaic period

Archaic period – people hunted small game, such as deer, antelope, and rabbits, and gathered wild plants. They moved seasonally to hunting and gathering sites. Late in the Archaic period, about 200-500 A.D., maize was introduced into the diet and pottery-making became an occupation for storing and caring food.

  • Apex complex – a Middle Archaic period was dated from about 3000 to 500 BC and first appeared in the Magic Mountain Site near Apex Creek.
  • Archaic–Early Basketmaker Era – cultural period from 7000 - 1500 BC of ancestors to the Ancient Pueblo People, who used baskets to gather and store wild seeds, grasses, nuts and fruit. They moved seasonally to gather food and hunt, using spears with small projectile points, atlatl and darts and lived in simple dwellings.
  • Mount Albion complex – early Archaic culture (4050 to 3050 BC), distinguished by the Mount Albion corner-notched projectile. Examples are: LoDaisKa Site, Magic Mountain Site, and Franktown Cave.
  • Oshara Tradition – was an Archaic culture dated from 5,440 B.C. to A.D. 460 that is believed to be a predecessor to the Basketmaker culture of the Ancient Pueblo People. Six phases spanned a period from early Archaic period to the introduction of cultivation and pottery.

Post-Archaic period

See also: List of prehistoric sites in Colorado

Culture in prehistoric Colorado

  • Paleolithic lifestyle – a hunter-gatherer distinguished by their nomadic lifestyle and use of stone tools.
  • Pueblo culture – village life typified by the development of communities centered upon agriculture, pottery and trade.
See also the cultures under the Paleo-Indian, Archaic and Post-Archaic period sections above.


Clothing and personal adornment

  • Blankets – turkey feathers, yucca fibers and rabbit fur were woven into blankets. Hides were likely also used as blankets for warmth.
  • Clothing – little evidence of clothing, aside from a few loin-cloths found at archaeological sites.
  • Cradleboards – made from yucca, twigs and rabbit fur.
  • Hairstyles – based upon burial remains, men of the Basketmaker culture sometimes wore fancy hairstyles and it's hypothesized that women generally wore their hair cut short.
  • Jewelry – both men and women of the Basketmaker culture wore necklaces, bracelets and pendants made of shell, stone, bone and dried berries. Shells, such as abalone, conus and olivella from the coast of the Pacific ocean, would have been obtained through trade.
  • Robes – turkey feathers were woven into robes.
  • Sandals – made of woven yucca fibers or strips of leaves.


  • Cultivationmaize, squash, beans were cultivated by Ancient Pueblo People and some hunter-gatherers. Cultivation required at least some seasonal residency at the cultivation site for planting and harvesting.
  • Paleolithic diet – diet of hunter-gatherers, reliant upon seasonal attainment of wild plants and animals.


  • Adobe dwellings – building material made from sand, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material (sticks, straw, and/or manure).
  • Crude lean-tos – shelters made of poles covered with brush and/or hides and having a roof with a single slope.
  • Rock shelters – cave-like opening in a bluff or cliff, which may have construction of walls for protection from the elements.
  • Pit-houses – dwellings built partially below ground, covered with poles, brush, earth and/or hides.
  • Tipis – cone-shaped shelters made of wooden poles covered with animal skins.
  • Wikiup – downed branches upturned with small ends forming a tight knit top and large branch ends forming the circular base. Often covered with more, smaller branches and/grasses, allowing for one opening. Similar in shape to a tipi but not portable, nor more than seasonal in use.


  • Prehistoric medicine – practice of use of natural resources, such as plants and earth, to treat disease and injury.


Precontanct peoples made a number of tools from stone, such as knives and other tools to pound, scrape, and cut.

Food gathering, storing, cultivation, preparation and cooking
  • Baskets – container which is traditionally constructed from stiff fibers, which was used to gather, store and, when pitch-lined, cook food.
  • Digging sticks – used to plant seeds.
  • Manos – a stone used as the upper millstone for grinding foods (as Indian corn) by hand in a metate.
  • Metate – stone tool used for processing grain and seeds.
  • Pottery – ceramic ware made from clay and fired for durability.
  • Storage pits – underground pits, generally stone-lined for protection of surplus food against the elements and rodents.
  • Atlatl – spear-thrower used to hunt game.
  • Bow and arrow – projectile weapon used to hunt game, a significant improvement over the atlatl.
  • Nets and snares – to trap small game.
  • Projectile points – a stone object crafted to a projectile, such as a spear, dart, arrow, or knife.
  • Spears – pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.
  • Bone awls – simple tool used for sewing or to puncture holes, such as to create clothing from animal skins.
  • Fire – Native American use of fire
  • Rope – woven from yucca.
  • Scraper – unifacial tools that were used either for hideworking or woodworking.
  • Yucca – a source of food, material for clothing and sandals, soap and more.

Origins of contemporary tribes

The Ute arrived in Colorado by the 17th century and occupied much of the present state of Colorado. They were followed by the Comanches from the south in the 18th century, and then the Arapaho and Cheyenne from the plains who then dominated the plains of Colorado. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche were the largest groups of indigenous people in Colorado at the time of contact with settlers. The following are the language groups and ancestors to contemporary Native American tribes:

  • Algonquians – were located prehistorically in Canada and the United States from the Rocky Mountains to the eastern seaboard. The Plains Algonquians, a geographic subdivision of the Algonquians, included the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Blackfoot people.
    • Arapaho – lived on the eastern plains of Colorado, Wyoming and across the Great Plains. They were close allies of the Cheyenne people with whom they shared territory in eastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. They wintered in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, hunted buffalo on the plains during the spring and fall and in mid-summer hunted game in the parks of Colorado.
    • Cheyenne – lived on the plains east of the Rocky Mountains with the Arapaho.
  • Southern Athabaskans – consists of the Apachean and Navajo Nations, migrated from the present-day state of Alaska and northwestern Canada to the Great Plains of the United States, including Colorado, before settling in Southwestern United States.
  • Caddoan – of the Great Plains of the central United States, from North Dakota south to Oklahoma.
  • Tanoan languages – a major family of Pueblo languages (Jemez, Tewa, Tiwa) and the Kiowa, ancestral to the pueblo people
    • Kiowa – lived or ranged in the southwestern plains adjacent to the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.
  • Uto-Aztecan languages
    • Central Numic – the homeland of the Numic branch has been placed near Death Valley, California.
      • Comanche – were located in southeastern Colorado, south of the Arkansas River.
      • Shoshone – Eastern Shoshone tribes lived in northern Colorado and Wyoming.
    • Colorado River Numic language – like the Central Numic, the homeland of the Colorado River Numic branch has been placed near Death Valley, California.



Language groups pre-contact locations
Historic map, representing prehistoric tribal regions
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