ALAMOSA COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A technology originally developed for the oil and gas industry is now being used to explore Colorado’s history.

University of Colorado Denver’s Center of Historic Preservation has adapted LIDAR laser scanners to document ancient Indian sites and ranches across Colorado.

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Kat Vlahos, Director for the Center of Preservation Research, has gone to the Medano Ranch in the San Luis Valley for 12 years.

“I’m amazed at the strength that I think people would have had to settle here,” Vlahos said.

This time, though, she’s looking at the site through electronic eyes.

“We’re working with LIDAR scanning,” she said.

Vlahos and her team of historic preservation graduate students are using 3-D laser scanning technology to map the ranch. The laser scans the site — 50,000 points every second — creating a 3-D model as it goes around.

They scan the site from several locations.

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“A more complete picture is a good way of saying it. You get a lot more data collection, a lot more points the more you scan,” technical coordinator Mike Nulty said.

The images bring out details hidden to the naked eye.

“We’ll see old foundations, potential sites that are used as dumps,” Nulty said.

Dumps that often yield vital clues about early inhabitants.

“Dump sites can be some of the most fascinating, interesting places in a site, even more telling than the structures that are still standing,” Nulty said.

Medano Ranch in the San Luis Valley (credit: CBS)

Vlahos’s team is hoping the images will help them get a better understanding of how the ranch worked, and how it changed as ranching evolved over the years.

“It also reveals something that perhaps we haven’t even considered initially that now perhaps we can explore even further,” Vlahos said. “I hope that information is available to other researchers so they can add their piece of information on it.”

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The research will be given to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Nature Conservancy to help them develop a long-term plan for the Medano Ranch.