Rich Adams, former Wyoming State Archaeologist, is rocking the premises of Rocky Mountain Archaeology with his discoveries in the Wind River Mountains of high-rise villages. In 2006, an ancient village was discovered at over 10,700 feet on the eastern slopes near Whiskey Mountain in Dubois. This is only one of two high rise villages in North America consisting of forty seven 10×14 dwelling pads, many artifacts including soapstone bowls.
Since then Adams has uncovered over nine high-rise sites in the Winds, with only one or two of them on the western side of the Divide. But with these sites being over 4000 years old, archaeologists are going to have to rethink their dates of when the Shoshones came here from the Great Basin region.
I spent a few weeks backpacking early August in the Winds (next blog will be on that when the photos arrive) and had the opportunity to hear Adams speak and see the amazing petroglyphs on Ring Lake Ranch. The villages and the glyphs are Sheep Eater Shoshone relics. On my second backpack on the west side up New Forks, I met a Bridger-Teton archaeologist who was looking for Indian remnants. Apparently there is an intensive effort now to document whatever can be found before being destroyed by fires or by humans.
Sheep Eater Shoshones lived in the summers at high elevations around 11,000′. There are plenty of fairly flat sites in the Wind Rivers at this elevation for making a camp. And although today this would be above timberline with no trees, thousands of years ago the weather was wetter and treeline was higher. So these villages would be in a nice sparse forest of White Bark Pine.
Sheep Eaters were there to hunt the Bighorn Sheep that range high up in summer, and come down lower in winter. They followed the plant bloom and ate roots. They could gather berries in August and pine nuts in the fall. By late fall they’d venture down lower to a place like Ring Lake which has little snow throughout the winter and the sheep are nearby. Their petroglyphs might reflect sacred burial areas, or vision quest sites. They knew the Land and the landscape and let it dictate their wanderings.