Category Archives: U.S.A

1,000-Year-Old Buffalo Jump Discovered in Wyoming

1,000-Year-Old Buffalo Jump Discovered in Wyoming

For Curt Ogburn and Wade Golden, the journey to the excavation of the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump near Baggs began almost 30 years ago, when the two high school students first found an old bison skull on state land.

Wade and I were like brothers,” Ogburn said. We found all kinds of stuff out in the desert, and it was our playground. One day in 1991, Ogburn and Golden were out in the hills, doing the thing so many Wyoming teenagers do: scaling rocks, climbing hills, and exploring.

“We were hiking around the Red Desert west of Baggs, and found a buffalo skull,” Golden said. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ so we picked it up and took it back to the high school science lab where we gathered around and looked at it… That was it.”

In about 2008, Golden started wondering — could he find that site again?

“As I was hiking in, I started finding artifacts. I found a lot more buffalo skulls and a lot more bones all around,” Golden said. Golden said that after a few attempts to contact the Wyoming State Archaeologist, Spencer Pelton, who took the job in November, agreed to investigate.

The Wyoming State Archaeologist is investigating a site near Baggs where prehistoric people likely drove bison to the edge of a steep embankment on foot, where they then shot them with bows and arrows. Discovered in the early 1990s by two Wyoming high school students, the site is home to artifacts over 1,000 years old.

“I get a lot of calls, but this one seemed promising,” Pelton said, adding that the two first headed to the site in late June.

“We discovered this was an archaeology site used to kill bison, and it was used between around 1,000-1,500 years ago,” he said. “This particular site is — the best way to put it is that there is no way that bison bone would have ended up where it was without humans having a role in it. These bison bones are perched upon some pretty steep, cliffy areas, and it is not in a place where you would expect an animal to die naturally.”

For what were the earliest users of the bow and arrow, the journey to the area started 1,000-1,500 years ago. This was a millennium before the introduction of the horse to North America, around the time people transitioned from using a spear, or atlatl, to the bow and arrow. Several arrow points directly associated with the bones have also been discovered.

“These are probably some of the first people to use the bow and arrow,” Pelton said. “The site wasn’t so much of a cliff, but a steep embankment where the animals would become increasingly confined near steep, broken terrain. As these bison got more and more confined, it got easier for people to kill them.”

Bison hunting was a very dangerous endeavor, he said.

“To some extent, hunting is still dangerous compared to our day-to-day lives,” Pelton said. “But especially in prehistoric days, chasing these giant animals with stone tools, there is not a lot of room for error in that process.”

Landscape at any given site is unique, but the bones at the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump were preserved in a mudstone layer of rock.

“The bones became incorporated with the sediments in this area, which have gradually eroded down to where we found them today,” Pelton said. “This place is in a unique setting. I have never actually seen anything like it.”

Slopes are typically not great for preservation because they’re constantly eroding, but in this case, the bedrock mudstone preserved the bones in just the right way, Pelton said. Wyoming likely had its prehistoric population peak around 1,000-1,500 years ago, when people lived in semi-permanent seasonal camps that they would return to on an annual basis. There is evidence that people in the area had a complex, large society with an extensive trade network reaching the Pacific Ocean.

The exact location of the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump is confidential for the time being, to preserve the opportunity for study.

“It is really important that when we find an archaeology site of some significance that one, there is confidentiality involved,” Pelton said. “We don’t want folks collecting things because that would impact our ability to interpret how the site was used, and two, this site, in particular, doesn’t lend well to public interpretation. It is in a really dangerous spot, so how we handle something like this is we conduct an excavation, write up our findings and establish an exhibit in a local museum.”

For Golden, preservation is first and foremost.

“This is history that should be shared with everyone,” he said. “It is very neat. I knew immediately, once I started finding artifacts, what it was, and the importance of it. Ogburn said that to a 16-, 17-year-old kid, finding the bison skull was a novelty, but it is only now that he can fully appreciate what he and his best friend stumbled on three decades ago.

“We knew what it was, but we didn’t know the extent until the State Archaeologist came to look at the site,” he said. “Wade has always been the geologist, archaeologist type. We grew up together since we were four years old, and I used to tease him that he could get out of a car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot and trip over an arrowhead. He is that kind of guy. He is lucky — but he knows what he is looking for.”

Ogburn’s own son is 10 now and loves Wyoming’s history. That his name will forever be on a bison jump in Carbon County — that is pretty amazing.

“I am just so glad Wade kept up with this. My son is 10, and he loves this kind of thing,” Ogburn said. “It is pretty cool.”

The ancient giants of Nevada and the mystery of lovelock cave

The ancient giants of Nevada and the mystery of lovelock cave

For more than a century, a story has persisted about the skeletons of giants being found in Lovelock Cave in northern Nevada. For many years, human remains were put on display in museums here and elsewhere, but that changed. Most of the bones and skulls that were once considered to be historical artifacts have been returned to tribes for burial.

If oversized bones from the so-called Lovelock giants ever existed, they are no longer available to the public. But their story behind the legend persists. Slicing through the bone-dry Humboldt sink on a long dirt road, it’s hard to imagine that all of it was once underwater.

Remnants of a vast ancient lake can still be seen in the distance. For generations of first Americans, this was a lush paradise of tules, fish, and waterfowl. Humans have climbed the same narrow path up the jagged mountain for more than 4,000 years. That’s how long indigenous peoples lived in and around the Lovelock Cave.

The roof of the cave is coated with soot from countless campfires lit by ancestors of the Paiutes. According to tribal lore, a race of red-headed giants made its last stand in the cave.

Reporter George Knapp: “Among today’s Paiutes, do most say the giants were real?”

Devoy Munk: “All that I’ve talked to say yes. I’ve haven’t heard anybody say no.”

Devoy Munk, a Lovelock historian, has spent all of her 80-plus years in Lovelock. Her family’s home today houses a small museum, jam-packed with artifacts and depictions documenting centuries of native culture and pioneer life.

Munk has earned the trust of Paiute elders who say the stories are true, and that the red-headed interlopers not only killed but ate their ancestors.

“My Indian friends tell me they were cannibals, that they set traps. They dug holes in pathways where they walked, covered them, and then Indians would fall in, and they said the best parts to eat were the thighs,” Munk said.

On Internet sites and alien-themed TV shows, the gruesome legend has blossomed, but it’s hardly new. Versions have been told and retold in magazines, even scholarly journals for more than a century.

Famed Nevadan Sarah Winnemucca first wrote in her acclaimed book that the Paiutes waged a three-year war against a tribe of red-headed cannibals before trapping — then killing — the last of them inside lovelock cave.

Her book doesn’t mention giants, and mainstream archeologists have vigorously rejected the entire story, to the point that the state museum in Winnemucca admonishes visitors at its front entrance that the red-headed giants are a myth.

“There have been skeletons pulled out of the Reid collection,” said Bill Snodgrass. “They found some in there roughly 6’2″. When you think about it, back then, six-foot was a very tall individual.”

Snodgrass is the curator of the Marzen House Museum in Lovelock and thinks there is a reasonable basis for parts of the story. In the early 20th century, guano miners began excavating the Lovelock Cave and uncovered thousands of artifacts along with mummified remains including a few specimens much taller than the typical Paiute of centuries past.

Later scientific excavations found troves of native antiquities along with bones. Some human remains were destroyed. Others went to museums for display. A few, Snodgrass says, were consumed in bizarre initiation rituals. He adds there is evidence — including basketry — of an unknown culture that lived near the cave. Records show some of them had red hair.

“I can’t say who they were, redheads or not. Some say uric acid changes the color of hair, but there was definitely a different people here,” Snodgrass said.

Many, if not most, of the visitors who end up at the Marzen House Museum, have questions about the red-headed cannibals. The locals still enjoy the debate.

Reporter George Knapp: “The two of you disagree but it’s a friendly disagreement?”

“Oh yes. We’ve had this discussion and he hasn’t convinced me and I haven’t convinced him,” Munk said. Whether the red-headed giants ever existed, visits to the two museums are worth the drive. 

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Uncovered in Michigan

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Uncovered in Michigan

Excavators working at Mackinac State Historic Parks have uncovered a heart-shaped ring, a sleeve button made of glass or crystal, a gunflint, a plain pewter button, a plain brass button, and part of a bone knife handle at the site of a house at Colonial Michilimackinac, a fort first established by French traders and missionaries on Mackinac Island.

An intact heart-shaped ring was found during the beginning of the 2020 archaeological season at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Researchers discovered what seems to be an intaglio bottle, or perhaps the quartz, jacket ring, according to Dr. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks

“We are not sure who the figure is, but it appears to be a Classical figure, which might have appealed to an educated man of the eighteenth century.

It was found in what we believe to be the second cellar of the house, where we have been finding British-era artifacts.

An intaglio glass, or possibly crystal, sleeve button (cuff link) was also found during one of the first archaeological digs of the 2020 season at Colonial Michilimackinac.

We have found other intaglios at Michilimackinac, including another one at this house, but the others have all been round and appear to have been busted in the style of the eighteenth century.

An intaglio glass, or possibly crystal, sleeve button (cuff link) was also found during one of the first archaeological digs of the 2020 season at Colonial Michilimackinac. (Mackinac State Historic Parks)

Archaeologists also found a gunflint, a plain pewter button, and part of a bone handle from a knife in the root cellar in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Along with the findings, two horizontal planks, perhaps the floor, are starting to be exposed, said Evans.

A plain brass button and an intact heart-shaped trade ring have also been exposed in the same area.

The archaeological dig at Michilimackinac began in 1959, making it one of the longest-running archaeology programs in North America. House E was first occupied by Charles Henri Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville, and later by an as-yet-unidentified English trader.

New Plant Identified in 1,400-Year-Old Pipe in Washington

New Plant Identified in 1,400-Year-Old Pipe in Washington

Rhus glabra, a herb commonly known as smooth sumac, was smoked by people in the Washington State more than 1.400 years ago.

The finding was made by a team of researchers from the State University of Washington is the first time scientists in an archeological pipe have detected the remains of a non-tobacco plant.

The Native American pipe, unearthed in Central Washington, also contained residues N. quadrivalvis, a tobacco species currently not cultivated in the area but which is believed to have been widely grown in the past. Until now, Ancient people in the American Northwest had only thought about using special smoking herb mixtures.

Replica pipes used to experimentally “smoke” tobacco and other native plants in WSU laboratories for the study. The charred residue is then extracted, chemically “fingerprinted”, and compared to the residue of ancient archaeological pipes.

“Smoking often played a religious or ceremonial role for Native American tribes and our research shows these specific plants were important to these communities in the past,” said Korey Brownstein, a former WSU Ph.D. student now at the University of Chicago and lead author of a study on the research in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences. “We think the Rhus glabra may have been mixed with tobacco for its medicinal qualities and to improve the flavor of smoke.”

The discovery was made possible by a new metabolomics-based analysis method that can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residue collected from pipes, bowls, and other archeological artifacts. The compounds can then be used to identify which plants were smoked or consumed.

“Not only does it tell you, yes, you found the plant you’re interested in, but it also can tell you what else was being smoked,” said David Gang, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and a co-author of the study. “It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that this technology represents a new frontier in archaeo-chemistry.”

Previously, the identification of ancient plant residues relied on the detection of a limited number of biomarkers, such as nicotine, anabasine, cotinine, and caffeine. Gang said the issue with this approach is while the presence of a biomarker like nicotine shows tobacco was smoked it doesn’t distinguish which species it was.

“Also, if you are only looking for a few specific biomarkers, you aren’t going to be able to tell what else was consumed in the artifact,” Gang said.

In addition to identifying the first non-tobacco plant smoked in an archaeological pipe, the WSU researchers’ work also helps elucidate the complex evolution of tobacco trade in the American Northwest.

Analysis of a second pipe that was used by people living in Central Washington after Euro-American contact revealed the presence of a different tobacco species, N. Rustica, which was grown by native peoples on the east coast of what is now the United States.

“Our findings show Native American communities interacted widely with one another within and between ecological regions, including the trade of tobacco seeds and materials,” said Shannon Tushingham, an assistant professor of anthropology at WSU and co-author of the study.

“The research also casts doubt on the commonly held view that trade tobacco grown by Europeans overtook the use of natively-grown smoke plants after Euro-American contact.”

Moving forward, the WSU researchers’ work could ultimately help scientists studying ancient societies in the Americas and elsewhere around the globe identify which plant species ancient people were consuming, providing important information about the evolution of drug use and similar plant-human dynamics.

Closer to home, the WSU team is also putting their work to use helping confirm connections between ancient plant management practices from before the arrival of Western settlers with cultural traditions of modern indigenous communities such as the Nez Perce.

The researchers shared their work with members of the tribe who also used some of the seeds from the study to grow some of the pre-contact tobacco.

The smoking of tobacco is a sacred tradition for Native American groups including the Nez Perce, Colville, and other northwest Tribes and before now it was impossible to tell which kind of tobacco their ancestors smoked.

“We took over an entire greenhouse to grow these plants and collected millions of seeds so that the Nez Perce people could reintroduce these native plants back onto their land,” Brownstein said.

“I think these kinds of projects are so important because they help build trust between us and tribal communities and show that we can work together to make discoveries.”