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2 November 2014
Clues about prehistoric residents of the Rocky Mountains

This past summer, Matt Stirn, Rebecca Sgouros, and a crew of volunteers made two expeditions on the west slope of the Teton Range, a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains between Wyoming and Idaho, just south of Yellowstone National Park, USA.
     Not that long ago archaeologists thought indigenous people of the region made short visits and occasional use of resources above 10,000 feet. Then a team that included Stirn started finding evidence that American Indians not only pitched camps in the high country, but also established alpine villages that were possibly used for thousands of years. Besides widespread projectile points, they found large grinding stones that may have been used over generations, as well circular depressions that proved to be remnants of structures.
     Archaeological surveys in the Tetons go back to the 1970s, but new technology and new ideas about how prehistoric people might have used the area have resulted in the discovery of 30 previously unrecorded sites dating back perhaps 11,000 years.
     Artefacts include stone points and tools, soapstone fragments, and one complete bowl. Because soapstone is porous, any fats the bowl may have contained could have sunk into the vessel’s pores and been preserved, and reveal how old the item is and also offer clues about what its makers ate.
     Also of interest are artefacts made of stone from near Dubois, Idaho - a 200 kilometre trek over rugged terrain.
     Stirn said a lot of artefacts found at Wind River sites are associated with Plains Indian cultures to the east, while Teton artefacts are more in the style of the Great Basins of Utah and Idaho to the west.
     The team has a five-year permit with public land agencies to continue its work. They’d like to plot sites, compare the east side of the Tetons with the west side, and preserve and protect the sites.

Edited from Jackson Hole News & Guide (15 October 2014)

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