SHERIDAN – Artifacts found at the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site this summer are slated for a radiocarbon dating that could tell researchers more about when the Crow or Apsáalooke people came to the area, Wyoming State said Archaeologist.
“This summer we found Crow pottery, as well as a number of things from thousands and thousands of flakes and 10 arrowheads (or arrowheads) and preforms for making arrowheads to animal bones from bison and bighorn sheep as obsidian,” said the archaeologist des Wyoming State, Spencer Pelton.
“We were really hoping to find radiocarbon-dated Crow ceramics to have a better idea of how old these ceramics are,” he said.
Sharon Peregoy, a member of the Montana House of Representatives who represents the Crow Agency, said this type of work can help date early people in the area and preserve or regain history that might otherwise be lost.
“It helps dispel the concept that the people of Crow, Apsáalooke, were newly transplanted to the area,” she said, adding that “new” in this context means an arrival 500 years ago.
“The results of this type of excavation and research correlate with our oral history of Crow, which dates back to time immemorial … prehistoric,” Peregoy said. “History is important to preserve a home for future generations.”
The Wyoming State Archaeologist’s Office is currently conducting a ceramics research project and was hoping to find similar material during its first “public dig” this summer at Medicine Lodge, Pelton said. The area now known as the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site has been continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years, according to Wyoming State Parks, and was a functioning cattle ranch through the 1880s. In 1972, it was purchased by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which created the 12,000-acre Medicine Lodge Wildlife Habitat Management Area. In 1973, part of the habitat management area was developed into the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site. Today, visitors can camp along Medicine Lodge Creek, which flows through a canyon that provides respite from the hot, arid desert in summer and warmth and shelter in winter.
“This place has undoubtedly been a campsite for a long time,” said Pelton. “It’s such an oasis down there, with fresh water. It likely stays quite warm in the winter from the heat radiating from the cliffs and then relatively cool in the summer.
“I know that it stays relatively cool in summer because the temperature the moment you step out of this gorge rises by 15 degrees,” he said of his excavation experience that summer. Since Medicine Lodge is a high-traffic and open-to-the-public area, it was the ideal place to engage the public with research.
“We encouraged people to stop by and see what we were doing, maybe filter some dirt,” he said, adding that about 600 people stopped over the summer.
“It turned out really great and we did some legitimate research in the process,” said Pelton.
The rock art in the valley is 10,000 years old and includes petroglyphs and painted rock art or pictograms. The rock carving covers the face of a 750 foot long sandstone cliff that protects the area from the wind at its base.
“Crows art must be part of rock art,” Pelton said. “If you look at modern crow art and crow mythology, you can see many of the same motifs on the rock carvings and cliffs from around AD 1400 to AD 1600. Many of these traditions still exist today. “
Other petroglyphs at the Medicine Lodge are likely older than the Crow people, he said.
“That’s the amazing thing about Medicine Lodge. People probably came and made rock art there for thousands and thousands of years, and we still see the last few thousand years of it today, ”Pelton said. “People kept taking pictures of each other.”
Previous excavations in the 1970s showed an early presence in the valley.
“It was believed to be an archaeological site created by the ancestors of the crow,” Pelton said. “(Early explorers) knew that from pieces of a ceramic vessel they found there, they found the rim of a pot.”
Finding such ceramics is rare in Wyoming, but also valuable as one of the best artifacts for determining ancestry.
“These things are really different, and you can trace them over time and space to see how these various finds change over time,” Pelton explained. “Our first research priority is to use some of these ceramics to get some radiocarbon data on charcoal and maybe animal bones.”
Another thing found during public excavations that summer was obsidian, which almost certainly came from the Crow component of Medicine Lodge.
“Obsidian is different from any previous 12,000 years in Medicine Lodge Creek’s prehistory,” he said. “The great thing about obsidian is that you can relate it to specific outcrops, so now we know where those people came from who carried Crow-style ceramics to Medicine Lodge Creek. It’s probably somewhere in Yellowstone, it could be Teton Pass, or it could be all over Idaho. “
Pelton said his office would likely conduct another public dig in the summer of 2022. The key is to find a place that is open to the public and safe for people to gather.
“The hard part is finding the perfect confluence of publicly accessible locations that include a cool archaeological site,” Pelton said, adding that the preliminary plan is a similar event at Edness Kimball Wilkins Park in Natrona County . He hopes to reach people there who might otherwise know nothing of Wyoming’s archaeological past.
“There are some really well-known, easily accessible archaeological sites in this park, and this place gets a lot of visits,” said Pelton. “We can start by reaching a completely different group of people who are not normally confronted with such things, and expand our opportunities for education and contact.”