Innovating For Archaeology

August 10, 2021

by Paul Donegan, AICP, Matt Goebel, AICP, and Holly White

Colorado is home to some of the most culturally sensitive, scientifically significant, and beautiful archaeological sites in the world, ranging from internationally recognized parks and monuments to tens of thousands of undiscovered sites. These places contribute cultural, scientific, environmental, and economic value to communities across Colorado. In return, they deserve our protection, appreciation, and respect.

Over the last three years, Clarion Associates has worked in collaboration with History Colorado and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center under a grant from the State Historical Fund (SHF) to prepare the 2021 release of Archaeology for a Changing Colorado. This innovative study is thought to be the first of its kind to comprehensively identify and analyze the benefits of the field of archaeology—especially the economic benefits. By integrating the stories of professional archaeologists with available economic data, this groundbreaking report provides a holistic picture of how archaeology is relevant and contributes to modern-day Colorado.


Report cover images of the Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation in Colorado

Building on Well-Known Studies of Historic Preservation.  For the past two decades, Clarion Associates has partnered with History Colorado on a series of widely distributed reports that highlight the collaborative, everchanging, and statewide nature of historic preservation and the economic benefits of that work in Colorado. These earlier reports served as a catalyst for this new report on archaeology. The report is intended to be a starting point for a new series of reports that explore both the economic and qualitative impacts of archaeology.

Breadth of the Field. Archaeology contributes to Colorado’s culture and economy in more ways than you may initially think. Through various methodologies and data sets, the report highlights the many areas that exemplify the economic importance of archaeology in the state, such as:

  • Grant Funding: Federal grants, Colorado State Historic Fund grants, and funding from private/educational organizations for archaeology-related work generated $410.3 million in impacts to the Colorado economy between 1993 and 2019.
  • Heritage Tourism: Heritage tourists—travelers who incorporate visits to historic and cultural places into their travels—spent $10.5 billion throughout Colorado in 2019 alone, resulting in $650 million in state and local taxes and 79,000 jobs.
  • Events and Conferences: Between 2009 and 2019, archaeology-related conferences and events contributed over $48.5 million to the Colorado economy. These economic impacts benefited host communities statewide, including Cortez, Fort Collins, Craig, La Junta, Glenwood Springs, Denver, and other communities.
  • Education: In 2018, formal education in Archaeology and Anthropology programs at just seven of 21 community colleges and universities generated over $12.2 million in direct economic impacts.
  • Avocational Archaeology: Between 2017 and 2019, volunteers from various Colorado Archaeology Society (CAS) chapters contributed over 17,000 hours towards archaeology projects, which generated over $480,000 in economic impacts to the state economy.

Bringing the Report to Life through Graphics and Storytelling. To effectively tell the story of archaeology throughout the state, every page of the report includes photos from the field, custom illustrations and maps, charts, and graphs that support the narrative and engage the reader.

  • Photography. Photos in the report were provided by some of Colorado’s most renowned institutions like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Mesa Verde National Park, along with photos from professional archaeologists in Colorado. Photos were essential to the 22 highlighted projects that were profiled throughout the report.
  • Maps. Geographic data on the location of educational institutions that offer degree programs in Archaeology/Anthropology, Scenic Byway routes, and the relative location of archaeology sites and oil and gas wells were converted into maps that demonstrate the reach of archaeology across the entire state. The map of Colorado Museums and Repositories shown below proves that no matter where you are in Colorado, you are never too far from a unique cultural and historical experience.
  • Graphics. Illustrations and graphics throughout the report paint a clearer picture of the activities and events that shape the field. Colorado’s archaeological timeline, shown below, details Colorado’s human history—including well-documented events from the last 400 years of written record and lesser-known but equally relevant events related to marginalized and indigenous populations that inhabited this land—long before it was called Colorado.

Colorado Archaeological Timeline

In our recent blog from Fall 2020, Innovating For More Equitable and Inclusive Plans, Darcie White, AICP noted that…

“As planners and preservationists, we have access to the data, info, and communication skills that are needed to help tell a more complete story about the state of our communities. We owe it to the people and places that have been overlooked in the past to do just that. Only then can communities have an honest conversation about what they would like to see stay the same or change for the future.”

We can use a similar lens in considering the economic and social importance of the archaeology field. Not only is archaeology a robust economic driver for the state of Colorado; it also provides societal benefits to both rural and urban communities. As the field continues to reflect inward on its own policies and practices, these conversations mirror those that are happening in communities across the country. Archaeology for a Changing Colorado is not only a summary of economic benefits, but a starting point for History Colorado to gauge their work towards creating an inclusive and representative history where more people and communities see their roles and contributions reflected.

To learn more and view the full report, visit

Archaeology for a Changing Colorado Fact Sheet