Why an artifact/site portal?

An opportunity for mountain users to anonymously submit high-country artifact and site observations to advance the archaeological and historic record.

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Why an artifact/site portal?

Post by TomTuriano »

In "Select Peaks," I touched on Native American penetration into the mountains. I personally believe that Native Americans climbed many, if not most, of the "Select Peaks" long before white man ever set foot in Greater Yellowstone. They not only had the drive to climb for the spiritual aspect, but also for utility. And with evidence of their presence dating back over 9,000 years, they certainly had the time.

For example, steatite (commonly known as soapstone) was used to make bowls, beads, and pipes. It is found randomly and unpredictably in metamorphic rock. Several steatite quarries have been located in some very remote and high locations in the Tetons and Wind Rivers. It is very intriguing to imagine that Native Americans wandered far, wide, and high enough to stumble upon these valuable outcrops.

Undoubtedly, every niche in Greater Yellowstone has been explored by Native Americans in their search for valuable resources such as steatite, and flint materials used in making projectile points, such as obsidian, chert, and quartzite. Moreover, high elevations support an abundance of nutrituous plant foods and game, as well as a haven from summer heat and mosquitos.

Since I published "Select Peaks," this subject has interested me more and more, thanks to Richard Adams, an archaeologist with the State of Wyoming who is working on his Ph.D. through the University of Wyoming. Adams' subject is Native American use of the higher elevations and he presented many of his findings at a superb slide show in July 2004 at the AMK Ranch in Jackson Hole.

With the purpose of increasing the known inventory of high-altitude historic sites, and to gather evidence that shows the extent to which Native Americans proliferated the mountains, I ask you to share your findings by private email....whether it is a projectile point from a plateau in the eastern Winds, a wickiup amidst the white bark pine in the Wyoming Range, a shard of pottery from the Beartooth Plateau, a stone circle on a ridge in the Gros Ventre, or even a rusty old canteen or piton from a crack in the Tetons.

Teddy Roosevelt's Antiquities Act of 1906 made it illegal to "appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States" unless you are deemed "properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering" and that your endeavors "are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects."

In other words, you need to be an archaeologist and have a permit from the land management agency to gather artifacts or make excavations on government property.

In my opinion, this law has been very unfortunate for the science of archaeology because the majority of findings are not reported. This law most definitely has held back our knowledge of Native American travel, migration, and infiltration of the high elevations. The Antiquities Act has rightfully punished many looters of artifact-rich sites in the southwestern U.S., but I doubt the law has kept any would-be looter from looting.

I would say that most artifact gathering is done innocently and ignorant of the law. What is important is that the information attached to these artifacts not be lost because the collector is unwilling to share it for fear of incrimination.

My friend Meredith Taylor put it well: "The worst thing is that coffee cans of points, scrapers, knives, etc. take the artifacts out of context so no one can put the pieces of that puzzle back together to understand the prehistory of these cultures."

If you do find an artifact, the best course of action is to take pictures of all aspects of it as well as its original position. Then, record its location with a description and geospatial coordinates if possible. Cover the object at its original location so it cannot be seen and potentially taken by people who will not share their find.

If you already possess a some artifacts gathered around Greater Yellowstone, I personally would be very interested in seeing them and learning where each item was found. You will get no lecture from me.

As a historian, I am keeping a database of sites and artifact finds for the purpose of recording human exploration of Greater Yellowstone. I am not interested in looting archaeological sites or reporting people to the authorities.

Please share your finds with me via private email at <[email protected]>. I would be very interested in hearing whatever it is you have to share.

With your permission, I might also share the information, excluding your name or contact info, with a number of different archaeologists that I am in touch with.

Thank you!!

Thomas Turiano
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