At an elevation over 10,000 in the Wind River Range near Dubois, researchers have found evidence of pre-historic villages. (Matthew Stirn, University of Sheffield-Britian)
(Dubois, Wyo.) – High in the whitebark pine forest in the Wind River Mountains, in 2006, archaeologist Richard Adams stumbled across an alpine village like never before seen in Wyoming.
The next summer, Matthew Stirn, then a graduate student at the University of Shettfield in England, joined him surveying the mountains above Dubois. That summer they found six more alpine village sites.
Stirn noticed a pattern he imported into a GPS program that showed potential other sites in the Wind River Range. In 2010 he followed the program and found 13 more villages where the pattern predicted.
“Very rarely does X ever mark the spot in archaeology,” Stirn said.
Stirn recently published his findings in the Journal of Archeological Findings.
The villages date back from 150 years ago to some more than 2,000 years ago, Stirn said. All are in healthy whitebark pine forests where likely the people could harvest pine nuts, an important fat source. At the sites, archaeologists found tools for grinding stones and processing hides, knives and arrowheads.
There are so many grand explorations happening all over the world, said Stirn who is from Jackson. “It was really neat to find this in my backyard.”
What was especially impressive about the find was the sheer numbers of people that must have lived in the villages.
The largest site had more than 80 structures.
The mountains seemed so hard to live in that people didn’t often think of looking for ancient people there, Stirn said. The pottery, soap stone bowls and other items suggest whole families lived in the villages.
“It shed a new light on how to think about the mountains,” Stirn said.
Stirn plans to continue exploring the mountains – in six years he said they have likely explored less than 10 percent of the area. He also hopes to look for similar villages in the Tetons.