The Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources is the recipient of a federal “Save America’s Treasures” grant to improve preservation and conservation of artifacts associated with the Vore Buffalo Jump, an archaeological site near Beulah, Wyoming.
The grant is provided by the National Park Service, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment of the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wyoming grant is one of 42 preservation and conservation projects in 26 states that were funded this year.
Through the project, the approximately 23,000 bone and stone artifacts excavated from the Vore Site artifacts will be inventoried and properly stored. The Vore Site was used by Northwestern Plains tribes as a bison trap from about 1550 to the late 1700s. It is one of the largest sites of this type in North America. The Vore Site is unique in that bones and artifacts from each hunt at the site are preserved in discrete layers, facilitating research. The Vore Site is also of special interest as it was used through a period of time that saw the introduction of European culture and tool types. Most of the bones are from bison that were killed in the sinkhole at the Vore Site, although bones of other herd animals and carnivores, including domesticated dogs, have also been found at the site. The site was originally excavated in the 1970s by Dr. Charles Reher, Professor and Anthropology Museum Director, Emeritus, who is one of the principal investigators on the grant.
The grant was written by Dr. Marieka Arksey, who until recently was curation manager of the University of Wyoming Archaeological Repository (UWAR). Chad Hutchens, Head of Digital Assets, University of Wyoming Libraries is also a principal investigator as a goal of the project is to create a digital version of the collection that can be accessed by researchers worldwide. The “Save America’s Treasures” grant of $157,757.76 will fund 50% of the three-year program. The remaining funds will be in cash and in-kind contributions from the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist (OWSA), the UWAR, the UW Libraries, and the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF).
Wyoming State Archaeologist Spencer Pelton noted, “The scientific relevance of the Vore site assemblage extends far beyond archaeology and may be useful for zoologists, conservation biologists, paleontologists, and even agricultural economists and geneticists interested in understanding the impacts of human predation upon bovid herd viability. Our goal is to prepare the Vore site assemblage in a way that encourages its widespread use for these sorts of cross-disciplinary research projects.”
The Vore Site is one of the few active archaeological sites in the state of Wyoming that is open to visitors. The site is managed by the non-profit VBJF. Around 7,000 people from around the world visit the site in a typical summer, and the site hosts about 1,000 students each year (mostly fourth graders) from Wyoming and South Dakota through a field trip program. Jacqueline Wyatt, VBJF Board president and a co-investigator on the grant, stated, “The board is thrilled that this grant has been funded. Through this grant and the Indigenous Scholars Program funded through donations to our board, the Vore collection will finally be available for cross-disciplinary studies.” In keeping with the mission and goals of both the OWSA and the VBJF, the Indigenous Scholars Program prioritizes selection of underserved populations and indigenous/descendant group populations.
In 2019, Congress appropriated funding for Save America’s Treasures from the Historic Preservation Fund, which uses revenue from federal oil leases to provide a broad range of preservation assistance without expending tax dollars. The program requires applicants to leverage project funds from other sources to match the grant money dollar for dollar. “IMLS is honored to partner with the National Park Service and other federal agencies to support the Save America’s Treasures program,” said Paula Gangopadhyay, deputy director of Museum Services. “The grants to be administered by IMLS will help save endangered museum collections and they represent our agency’s ongoing support and commitment to the preservation of our nation’s heritage. Safeguarding these treasures allows us to reflect on the history of our country, our communities and the people who came before us.”