The Torres Cave Archaeological Site is a rock shelter in the wall of a canyon that cuts through the Chaquaqua Plateau south of La Junta. Excavated in 1977 by the Denver chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society, the site was probably occupied over several centuries as a seasonal Plains Woodland (350–1000 CE) hunting and foraging camp with a possible later Apishapa phase (1050–1450 CE) component. The artifacts recovered from the site have the potential to shed light on the transition from Plains Woodland to Apishapa in southeastern Colorado.
In 1974 the Louis Torres family notified the Colorado Archaeological Society of an archaeological site on the family ranch near Villegreen. The site was a rock shelter about halfway up a steep canyon wall. About 100 feet across, twenty-five feet deep, and up to eight feet high, the shelter sometimes protected ranch workers during storms. No prior professional archaeological work had been done at the site, but it had seen significant disturbance: several years earlier a human burial had been removed but then returned and reburied, and the soil had been dug up enough to bury a soft-drink bottle cap many inches below the surface.
In 1974 the Denver chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society did a test excavation at the site, followed two years later by another test trench. Despite the disturbances, the Denver chapter decided to do an intensive excavation in the summer of 1977 with help from a Colorado Historical Society Local Assistance Program grant. The field crew worked for twenty-eight days and excavated about half the shelter.
The Denver team found hundreds of stone artifacts, including metates and manos as well as drills, cores, knives, scrapers, and projectile points. One large boulder in the shelter had grinding basins and sharpening grooves worn into its surface. There was also a sandstone slab the size of an ironing board buried a foot beneath the surface, but its purpose was uncertain. In addition, the team found a few shallow cord-marked pottery sherds, bone tools and beads, and eleven human bones (perhaps a portion of the skeleton that had been removed and reburied). Most of the identifiable bones in the shelter were from small mammals, suggesting that its inhabitants were hunter-gatherers.
Projectile points proved especially helpful in dating Torres Cave, which contained no perishable materials other than bones because its floor was often damp from spring seeps and heavy storms. The site’s small, triangular, corner-notched points indicated that it was inhabited by Plains Woodland peoples. The shallow cord-marked pottery sherds suggested that the site was occupied at least once around the transition from the Developmental period to the Diversification period that took place between 900 and 1050 CE. It is possible that the shelter was used seasonally throughout the two periods, perhaps as long as from 350 to 1400 CE.