Ancient Colorado ruin wins reprieve

A unique Colorado archaeological site lying in the path of bulldozers has been given a reprieve, and money is being made available to excavate the area thoroughly before it must be destroyed to make way for a water pipeline.

The site, known as Windy Gap, has what may be evidence for the oldest buildings in North America, dating to more than 3000 BC. It was discovered last fall as bulldozers were clearing the area for the pipeline. Although the pipeline builder, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, spent $70, 000 last winter to excavate one feature with evidence of ancient ''wattle-and-daub'' building material, much remained to be done. But the water district officials decided that was all they could spend, and time was running out.

Federal and state archaeologists, however, argued that this find was extremely important. As a result, water district officials agreed to postpone work on the site until July 31, even though it would cost them an additional $30 ,000. Interior Secretary James Watt solicited private funds from several organizations, including the National Geographic Society. And Colorado's State Historical Preservation Officer, Arthur Townsend, traveled to Washington, D.C., in an emergency fund-raising effort.

As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation tapped $50,000 from its Endangered Property Fund and has donated it for further excavations. And National Geographic has indicated it will put up $28,000 and will prepare an article for its magazine on the emergency excavations.

''The response has been overwhelming, We are well on our way to raising the $ 135,000 we need for a fairly complete excavation,'' Mr. Townsend reports. This sum will let them excavate four to five of the features completely and sample the others thoroughly. Hopefully, this will give a good picture of what may have been a permanent, high-altitude settlement, where people lived by manufacturing and trading stone tools.

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