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10 February 2017
Wyoming wildfire reveals ancient artefacts

A wildfire in 2011 high in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, USA, revealed a vast, centuries-old Shoshone [sho-SHO-ne] campsite. The site had likely been used intermittently for as much as 2,500 years, but most of the artefacts indicate a prolonged presence by the Mountain Shoshone some 300 to 400 years ago.
     Doctor Laura Scheiber, an archaeologist at Indiana University, who reported the find, says: "This time period is significant, because a massive campsite of this age is extremely rare in the mountains, without evidence of historic trade goods but with a wide variety of activities implied by the range of materials. We have documented small arrow points, pottery sherds, bone tools, distinctive bifacial knives, grooved mauls, and hundreds of thousands of tiny chipped stone flakes."
     Some of the projectile points are in a style at least 2,500 years old, Scheiber adds. The bulk of what remained were stone tools and ceramics made and used by the Mountain Shoshone, likely a few centuries before contact with Europeans.
     The site provides a view into the history of the Tukudika people, once known as the Lemhi or Mountain Sheepeaters, whose modern descendants include members of the Shoshone-Bannock and Eastern Shoshone tribes.
     Scheiber continues: "The site did indeed prove to be a late period Mountain Shoshone campsite, with triangular arrow points, beveled knives, sherds from at least three different ceramic vessels, large grooved mauls, ground stone, and dozens of bifaces in different stages of production and use."
     Thousands of years of use have made it difficult to discern one period of occupation from another, but a few areas of the campsite stand out. Scheiber notes: "For instance, on the other side of camp is another incredibly complex site, where people left behind thousands of pieces of chipped stone in a primary reduction area, reducing locally-available chert cobbles into manageable pieces. In the middle of one of the large clusters of thousands of flakes was a perfectly preserved complete Mountain Shoshone tri-notched arrow point." Upstream from there, a series of hearths was found, along with a Shoshone knife and what appears to be a grinding rock.
     The site also included hundreds of fragments of Intermountain Ware - thick, flat-bottomed pottery distinctive of pre-contact Shoshone culture.
     Scheiber reveals: "The recovery of more than 1,000 ceramic sherds is especially exciting, since this robust dataset effectively triples the number of high-altitude ceramics in the region and will allow us to explore a number of fine-grained temporal and spatial questions about late pre-contact Shoshone life in the mountains."

Edited from Western Digs (24 January 2017)

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