36 – 1,680 Year Old Basket

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

Northwest Colorado has produced countless jaw-dropping artifacts over the years. One of the most magnificent, however, has to be this large basket found in a local rock shelter in the 1950s; it dates to the same time as the fall of the Roman Empire!
This large woven basket is an example of a “burden basket” used for carrying large loads of goods or foods in ancient times. At least seven additional burden baskets are known from this region — all being found in rock shelters where the dry conditions preserved the basketry for well over a thousand years.
Typically these types of baskets had carrying straps attached to them for either shoulder straps or a tumpline around the head; the remnants of these straps can be seen on the right side of the basket in the photo .
This type of burden basket is documented in a number of Fremont cultural sites in northwestern Colorado and eastern Utah and is occasionally depicted in Fremont rock art as well (see photo).
The Fremont name is given to groups of ancient Native American peoples that lived in these areas between approximately AD 550-1300. They subsisted on a mix of hunting/gathering and farming, and grew corn and squash along the Yampa, White, and Green Rivers as well as their major tributaries.
Why would such a basket be abandoned? In those situations where the context is known, these burden baskets were found as “recycled” objects in these shelters – turned into storage devices. They are frequently found inverted (flipped over), partially to fully buried, and sealed with clay and/or large rock covers. These storage units are often found associated with granaries used to hold maize either as a surplus crop or for emergency food stores during lean times.
Dr. Jason LaBelle (archaeology professor at Colorado State University) recently radiocarbon dated this basket and remarkably returned an age of 1680 +/- 30 radiocarbon years before present. When corrected for calendar years, the basket dates between AD 320-430! This could represent a very early Fremont occupation in the region or even an earlier predecessor population.
*A special thanks to Dr. Jason LaBelle for providing a majority of the information and text above.